ECSTATIC Hull KR fans were in a state of pure delirium so it is perhaps no surprise scrum-half Albert Kelly was a little confused himself amid all the drama.
The Australian was, predictably, a key figure as Rovers produced one of the biggest surprises of the season to win Saturday’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final against a clearly stunned Warrington Wolves.
Yet Kelly, whose kicking game proved so effective in masterminding the shock and setting up a Wembley meet with Leeds Rhinos, revealed he did not even know his side were winning when the final hooter sounded.
This possibly might explain why he bizarrely then attempted a drop goal when all around him, and the thousands of red and white supporters in the Headingley stands, were waiting for the 24-year-old simply to fire the ball into touch and end the tension.
“I was a bit ginger in the last 10 minutes,” said Kelly, who had been nursing a knee injury ahead of the East Yorkshire club’s biggest game in a decade.
“I kind of didn’t know what was happening – I thought we were behind for some reason.
“It was a brain snap. Everyone has those but we got there in the end and I’m thankful to all the boys – they played a massive part.”
That, indeed, is true; this assignment against such talented and relatively experienced opponents was always going to be one that required a full 17-man effort and, to that end, they delivered.
Kelly’s tactical kicking, in the absence of captain Terry Campese, was pinpoint, Josh Mantellato was a tower of strength on the left wing not just in attack but with two crucial try-saving tackles as well, and Shaun Lunt brought all his big-game experience to bear at hooker, too.
The industry of Rovers’ back-row, including Tyrone McCarthy, who twice won the cup with Wolves, Graeme Horne, Kevin Larroyer and James Donaldson was significant also.
Furthermore, head coach Chris Chester – barely 12 months after being promoted from assistant when Craig Sandercock was sacked – got his selection spot on.
In Campese’s continued absence, it would have been easy to give Dane Chisholm, a genuine stand-off by trade, a shot in what would have been only the Canterbury loanee’s second game since arriving in the country.
But he decided to stick with Maurice Blair in the No 6 role, the Australian who is generally preferred in the back-row, and his added defensive steel and conservative approach proved perfect as the rain made conditions difficult for both.
Before kick-off, there had been fears Rovers, who had lost four successive games to finish 10th and visit Leigh on Saturday in the opening Qualifier to save their top-flight status, might crumble against Tony Smith’s side.
When Kris Welham hesitated and allowed the kick-off to bounce dead, Warrington centre Ryan Atkins subsequently scoring after just 73 seconds, that concern was only magnified.
Gareth O’Brien added the first of his three conversions, but there was no points avalanche as Rovers quickly settled and found their way into the game.
Instead, although it was scrappy given the weather, they found enough cohesion to create back-to-back tries in the 24th minute and three minutes later that changed the game completely.
Mantellato got the first after Kelly initiated a slick handling move to the left and then fellow winger Ken Sio did brilliantly to sneak up on Gene Ormsby and pinch Kelly’s high kick before racing in for his 16th try of the year.
Mantellato converted that and added a penalty for a 12-6 interval lead which left Rovers fans sensing a shock was emerging.
When Larroyer somehow ignored four defenders to smuggle the ball over the line in the 47th minute, Mantellato improving and adding another penalty for 20-6, they could almost start booking train tickets to London.
However, Warrington had to find something and they did as Richie Myler scored one try and created another for Ben Currie, O’Brien converting to suddenly bring it back to 20-18.
Would Rovers, bereft of confidence in recent weeks, capitulate under the pressure? No.
Lunt scrambled over with four minutes to go and elated Mantellato punched the air as he added the goal that sealed it.
Kelly said: “It was a nightmare start but those things happen in rugby league – and we bounced back superbly.
“To hold them out like we did really shows the character of the team and everyone is just buzzing; some of the boys that don’t really talk are up shouting and screaming. I’m happy seeing that but now I need a sleep or two to take it all in.”
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford; Ormsby, Wheeler, Atkins, Monaghan; O’Brien, Myler; Hill, Clark, Sims, Wilde, Currie, Harrison. Substitutes: Dwyer, Asotasi, Philbin, England.
Hull KR: Dixon; Sio, Salter, Welham, Mantellato; Blair, Kelly; Walker, Lunt, Puletua, Larroyer, Horne, McCarthy. Substitutes: Boudebza, Donaldson, Green, Tilse.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).