Danny Houghton’s tackle 52 and Leeds Rhinos’ breaking the curse

ORDINARILY, these pages today would be full of Challenge Cup final coverage.

Top challenge: Hull FC's Danny Houghton's match-saving tackle on Warrington's Ben Currie. Picture: SWPIX

Admittedly, in the last couple of seasons not as much as in most years given there has not been a Yorkshire representative in either of the previous two Wembley showpieces.

Still, on the Monday after the finale of rugby league’s most prestigious knockout competition, The Yorkshire Post is normally imbued with reports, interviews, analysis and pictures chronicling both the ecstatic achievements of the latest side to lift that famous trophy and the agony of the vanquished as well.

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Today, however, that is not the case; the Challenge Cup final was due to have taken place on Saturday but was postponed as long ago as May due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It was confirmed last week that the 2020 affair will still go ahead with October 17 as the date, although the traditional venue of Wembley is only provisionally booked in.

Do not be surprised if Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – scheduled to host the third and final Test between England and Australia on November 14 before that was cancelled – eventually gets the green light.

Nevertheless, in the meantime, as there are no heroes to paint pictures about after Saturday’s showpiece did not go ahead, it is interesting to look back at some of the iconic Challenge Cup final moments and wonder aloud what would have happened if they, too, had not occurred.

For example, who can forget Danny Houghton’s legendary ‘Tackle 52’ on Ben Currie in 2016? Hull FC were leading 12-10 in the 79th minute and at last on the verge of finally winning at Wembley, ending a wait of almost 90 years to break that horrible hoodoo of theirs.

Takcle 52 - Warrington Wolves' Ashton Sims is tackled by Hull FC's Danny Houghton during the Challenge Cup Final

However, with the Black and Whites desperately holding on, Warrington Wolves back-row Ben Currie eventually slipped through the tiring defensive line ready to firmly place himself in Wembley folklore instead.

The England international looked destined to score only for the exhausted Hull captain Houghton – who had already made 51 tackles – to somehow emerge with a hit that crucially helped dislodge the ball just as his opponent crossed the line.

Matters do not get much more dramatic. The East Yorkshire club survived, Houghton regathered his breath to hoist the trophy and, not only that, was back there 12 months later as Hull retained it by beating Wigan Warriors.

Understandably, Houghton will never have to buy a beer in the west side of Hull again. Indeed, a beer was even named after the feat – Tackle 52.

Danny McGuire, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai after Leeds Rhinos won the 2014 Challenge Cup (Picture: Steve Riding)

But does he ever wonder what would have happened if, for whatever reason, he had missed that tackle?

“I literally think about it every time I see it,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“Obviously if Warrington had scored there they win the game. By the time he’d have kicked the goal, there’d have been 25 or 30 seconds left so it would have been a tough ask really.

“All the hurt the club had had through all those years, to get so close and then be denied again and on the hooter, it would have just been devastating.

Hull FC's Danny Houghton celebrates to the fans after his side's victory over Wigan in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final in 2017 (Picture: SWPix.com)

“Maybe we wouldn’t have gone on to win it in ’17 having had that heartache again. Who knows?

“Thankfully it happened but every time I see it I still do think he’s going to score. Who knows what would have happened for Hull then. It could have killed the club for a few more years.

“And it is a strange one as if Ben had that moment 100 times again he’d probably score 100 times out of 100.

“It was just one of those things where it was always going to be our day and thankfully – for us – he did manage to drop the ball.”

There are many other sliding doors moments in the history of the Challenge Cup final.

On the subject of try-saving tackles, what about John Pendlebury’s truly remarkable effort for Halifax on Mark Elia as they beat St Helens 19-18 in the 1987 Wembley affair?

The other way, most famously of all is Don Fox’s fateful missed conversion attempt for Wakefield Trinity against Leeds in the 1968 Watersplash final.

Five decades later, it was a more recent Leeds vintage that suffered their own painful woe in the Cup, but they did gain redemption. Rhinos won six Super League Grand Finals between 2004 and 2012 yet, from 2000 to 2012 lost all six Challenge Cup finals it appeared in, including three in a row at the end of that gut-wrenching run.

The ‘Golden Generation’ – Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow et al – at last got things right in 2014 when beating Castleford Tigers 23-10.

Like Hull, they then ironically defended their title with a record-breaking 50-0 destruction of Hull KR.

Prolific half-back McGuire played in both and recalled: “If we’d have lost in ’14 as well I do think we really might have thought we’ve had enough, we’re not going to bother with this.

“There’s only so much heartache you can take sat in a dressing room in Wembley!

“The history of what happened in ’15 might have been different if we’d have lost to Cas’. I think the monkey would have been just too big to get off our back at that point. But I think it was just a show of perseverance.

“We’d had a lot of heartache in the Challenge Cup. We’d had some really good moments in semi-finals and just not managed to see out a final nor ever really perform to our potential.

“We’re talking 2014 here but 2015 was definitely as good a performance as you’re going to get in terms of playing out a gameplan. I think we only missed about four tackles the whole game and it was as near to as perfect as you are ever likely.

“But ’14 was probably a more nervy performance. Ryan Hall scored a couple of great tries but the competition, with its history and the drama we had in it, it was one of those things that we did think at times ‘are we ever going to be able to achieve this?’

“It’s nice now to look back that you have a couple of those medals on the mantelpiece.”

McGuire scored a try and kicked a drop-goal against Castleford but he believes targeting their opponent’s Australian full-back was crucial.

He said: “Luke Dorn was one of their key players. He was quick and dangerous. We had a plan to quieten him down; kick high and into the corners and then get stuck into him.

“I always rated him as a player. He was always very, very good but I remember about five of us tackled him that day in one of the game’s first tackles and there was elbows flying in his face.

“There was a bit of roughing him up and he did have a really quiet game after that. That’s the sort of thing you need to do in big games and we managed to carry out the gameplan pretty well in both those years.”

As for what may or may not happen in 2020, we will all just have to wait and see. Roll on October 17.

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