Reilly hoping for new legends to emerge

Mal Reilly
Mal Reilly
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THINK of Castleford rugby league and the names Alan Hardisty, Keith Hepworth, Malcolm Reilly and John Joyner invariably spring to mind.

They are all, in their own right, legends of a club that is central to the gritty former mining town in West Yorkshire where the sport is so integral to its people.

But mention both Castleford and the Challenge Cup in the same sentence and Reilly’s name stands out just like those bruises his fearsome tackles he became so renowned for left on beaten opponents during his remarkable career.

That is because not only did he lift the famous trophy twice as a player for his home town, firstly against Salford in 1969 and again the following year versus Wigan, but he also returned to Wembley as a young, pioneering coach to inspire the Glassblowers’ last competition success in 1986.

Reilly, who, as a completely undaunted 21-year-old loose-forward won the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match for his domination of that fixture with Salford, certainly has Challenge Cup pedigree.

He will be in the famous stadium once more today as chief guest of the Rugby Football League hoping, just before 5pm, to present the iconic trophy to Castleford captain Michael Shenton after his side have prospered against their big city neighbours, Leeds Rhinos.

Some would argue how could the governing body choose, for such a prominent role, a figure with such obvious bias to one of the finalists?

But Reilly’s name is held in such respect throughout the world of rugby league – he is revered at Manly, where his uncompromising playing style helped the Sydney club to a title and then, in 1997, coached Newcastle Knights to their maiden Grand Final victory – that it has not been given a second thought.

The 66-year-old, of course, also coached Leeds, bringing them the Yorkshire Cup in 1988, ironically against Castleford at Elland Road.

As Great Britain chief two years later he came as close as anyone has – before or since doing so as a player himself in 1970 – to leading Great Britain to a first Ashes series success over Australia.

He is “honoured” to be there this afternoon when he will meet both sets of players before kick-off and concedes Wembley has always been so alluring.

“There is a great feeling around Castleford about this game,” Reilly told The Yorkshire Post, as the Tigers venture to the showpiece for the first time since losing to the great Wigan side of Hanley, Edwards, Gregory et al in 1992, their only defeat there.

“Since its inception, the club’s been to Wembley on five occasions. I’ve been fortunate to be involved in three.

“I’ve got the winners’ medals. I know what it’s like. It’s a great buzz and the first time I went there, in front of 98,000 people, the hairs on the back of my neck really stood up. I’ll never forget that. But success is not something you just stumble on. It’s something you have to sincerely prepare for. That’s key.

“Preparation is a science of success and both teams Saturday have been very good at it.”

Castleford’s narrative this season has been almost fairytale. They finished 12th last year, having initially been bottom under the failing Ian Millward.

But Daryl Powell, the former centre ever-present for Reilly in that epic ’90 series against the Kangaroos which included a First Test win at Wembley, came in to start the revitalisation process which has been utterly transformative.

A Castlefordian, too, Powell has not only guided his apparently fearless squad to today’s final but has them in sight of a potential maiden league title, too, the one trophy that got away for Reilly after Leeds defeated them in a brutal 1969 Championship final.

“Daryl’s always had the potential to be like this,” said Reilly, who assisted Powell when, fresh from retiring, he took over as head coach at Leeds in 2001.

“Castleford came to me when the appointment was the subject and there were a couple of candidates. I won’t tell you who the other one was but Daryl was the only choice for me.

“He’s always been level-headed, has the respect of everyone and he’s certainly shown that in the last 18 months.

“The players will do anything for him.

“He’s very shrewd in his recruitment. He had that time at Featherstone so he potentially knew what it was about at that level and who could step up and he’s filtered them into the Castleford team and a lot of them have been remarkably good.

“As for Saturday, they are two contrasting teams Leeds and Castleford. Leeds are a team of champion players – you could probably get six into the England side – whereas Cas is a champion team. There’s a bit of a difference.

“Leeds can be very dangerous with players like Jamie Peacock, Rob Burrow, Ryan Hall and Kevin Sinfield, of course, whose diagonal attacking kicks can cause real problems.

“But Castleford can be unpredictable, too. As a unit this year, they’ve shown they can play the best teams and be confident enough to produce the goods. And Daryl Clark is just terrific.”

Many of the ’86 team have spoken to the current squad in the build-up to today’s game, as has Reilly.

That afternoon Castleford were underdogs, like now, but they prospered 15-14 against a star-studded Hull KR side.

Reilly recalled: “I was so confident that day because of how the player prepared and how the training sessions had gone.

“I had nothing to do the night prior to the game so I actually wrote the winning speech. I was that confident. We’d trained at Crystal Palace and things went like clockwork. Perfect.

“We were massive underdogs – I see a lot of parallels with Saturday – as Hull Kingston had a lot of recognised internationals.

“But the players were really relaxed and I knew Hull Kingston would have to do something really exceptional to beat us.”

That said, the East Yorkshire side nearly did when they were left with a last-second conversion to win the cup.

“We were 10-0 up, they came back with two late tries and then it was that John Dorahy kick from the left touch,” said Reilly.

“I didn’t look. I daren’t. It was just the reaction of everybody that told me we’d won the Cup.

“Bob Beardmore was a real stand-out, Kevin Ward was strong, Tony Marchant terrific.

“There was Jamie Sandy’s try, of course. I bumped into him the last time I was over in Australia just by accident. He’s put about 10 stone on. He’s a big boy!”

On his Wembley debut in ’69, when Castleford edged Salford 11-6, he added: “That 80 minutes went in a flash. It was special.

“I was just 21 in the January. I didn’t have any nerves at all, though. I knew what my role was. It’s important players do.

“It’s not a matter of trying hard, it’s the quality of the performance that counts and giving nothing away.

“I shouldn’t have been playing in the second final against Wigan. I didn’t train in the last session. I was in bed with flu.

“The doctor was giving me medication all night. I had a high temperature but felt all right so said I’d play. It was okay.

“Cas can win again Saturday. If they do, their confidence will be so high they could even win the title for the first time, too.”

Then, new legends would undoubtedly be born.