Dave Craven: What a fantastic way to celebrate the game’s milestone

A general view of the Challenge Cup Trophy during a team walk around at Wembley Stadium, London (Picture: John Walton/PA Wire).
A general view of the Challenge Cup Trophy during a team walk around at Wembley Stadium, London (Picture: John Walton/PA Wire).
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HOPE you have all seen the Maxine Peake BBC preview to today’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final.

Stirring stuff isn’t it? The actress looks out over Oldham and, in her unmistakable accent, talks about all that is good in rugby league to the backdrop of, among other things, classic Challenge Cup images.

The fact it is a Lancastrian accent we will live with. It is still, let’s say, very agreeable.

My lovely ‘Aunty P and Uncle George’ are from Bolton, too, and I still have a private chuckle when either of them says anything resembling ‘you coming doooon nooo’.

Anyway, that’s enough ammunition for my Lancy mates.

The upshot of the piece, as well as obviously promoting the action between Hull KR and Leeds Rhinos, is that today marks the 120th anniversary of the sport.

There can be few finer ways to celebrate that than by witnessing the Challenge Cup final at Wembley.

Obviously, it is just pure luck the last Saturday in August this year is August 29, the date of that historic first meeting in the George Hotel, Huddersfield 1895.

Nevertheless, what a great opportunity to showcase the game once more; the Beeb includes all the expected in their montage – messrs Kenny, Boston, Lydon, Hanley, Millward and the luckless Don Fox – but how great to see Sheffield Eagles’ Matty Crowther, too, from 1998 and, forgive me again ardent Tykes, Joel Tomkins’s 2011 wonder try for Wigan.

With the unveiling of a specially-commissioned statue at the national stadium, too, this morning to mark the sport’s anniversary and its rich history of rugby league folklore, the scene is set.

Alex Murphy, Eric Ashton, Gus Risman, Billy Boston and Martin Offiah will all be immortalised and, again, though there is no Yorkshireman in there, you cannot argue with the credentials of that stellar quintet.

Furthermore, with Lizzie Jones – the widow of Danny Jones, the Keighley Cougars player who died earlier this year – singing the traditional rugby league hymn Abide With Me before kick-off, the emotions are going to be greater than perhaps ever before.

Then it will come to the game itself and, as Peake attests, the classic David versus Goliath tale.

I am staggered that you can get odds of 9-2 for a Hull KR win. Clearly, Leeds are favourites but this Rovers side has downed Wigan, Catalans and Warrington en route to this rare day out at Wembley.

Admittedly, perhaps that is the principal reason for the bookmakers’ confidence in Leeds; Rovers have not been in such a final since 1986 and have still won it only once before in 1980.

Only Tony Puletua in their ranks, the veteran Kiwi prop who must strive to douse Jamie Peacock and Adam Cuthbertson’s fire and finesse, was even born when Roger Millward hoisted the cup 35 years ago.

My feelings are much the same as 12 months back when Castleford also ventured south.

I, like many, knew they were good enough to defeat Leeds – if they delivered a performance near their ultimate. They did not and, though the 23-10 loss was far from a disgrace, there were clearly regrets.

KR, with so many class talents, are much the same so let’s hope they too aren’t left to rue a missed chance. For, if they do, Leeds could inflict a far greater wound and no-one would want to see that on this special day.