Gareth Ellis – Why lifting 2016 Challenge Cup with Hull FC was my greatest game

MY greatest game stands out by a million miles from the rest.

MAGIC MOMENT: Hull FC's captain Gareth Ellis lifts the Challenge Cup trophy after beating Warrington Wolves in 2016. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

I’ve played in a lot of memorable matches at all the clubs I’ve played at – and with my country, too – but there’s one poignant one that beats them all.

Not just because of the game and what it was and what it is but also because of what it meant to so many other people – fans, players, the club itself – the 2016 Challenge Cup final victory stands out.

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It was one of the things I spoke about when I first joined Hull in 2012 – one of the attractions why I took the calculated gamble to sign with them when I came back from Australia: that ambition and chance to be the first Hull captain to lift the Challenge Cup at Wembley.

SAME AGAIN: Hull FC's Gareth Ellis lifts the 2017 Challenge Cup trophy at Wembley. Picture: Paul Harding/PA.

For all that to come to fruition on that day is a memorable moment for so many reasons.

I don’t really remember the game itself but I’m actually in the process of writing my autobiography and, so, I watched it back with Vince Groak, who’s writing it with me. It all came back and hit me just how good that match was. I got really emotional viewing it again and that shows just how important and memorable it was to me.

I probably had a few ghosts of Wembley 2013 – after we failed miserably in that opportunity against Wigan – ringing around beforehand.

A little bit of that doubt that comes into your mind or the opposite side of it is not wanting to be in that position again.

ONE TO FORGET: Gareth Ellis battles with Josh Charnley in the 2013 Challenge Cup Final, a desperately disappointing day for Hull FC when they lost to Wigan. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

But I think we were in a better place team-wise; we were very confident and I thought we were the best side in the competition in 2016, although we didn’t go on and win the Grand Final. That said, there were periods in that final where I thought we didn’t have a chance and we weren’t going to do it. We weren’t going to come back.

It wasn’t until quite late on when Marc Sneyd kicked a 40/20 and I remember running to the scrum in hope. We were 10-0 behind but do remember seeing some of the Warrington lads bent over, a couple on the floor and thinking how energised we were. I thought maybe there is something we can go chase here. And we did. We took the game by the scruff of the neck and put on enough points to win 12-10 with some obviously brilliant plays.

Sneyd’s kicking game in that last 20 minutes and Mahe (Fonua) coming up with some Mahe moments was the difference. Then there was that Danny Houghton tackle. I was really close to it.

A few minutes earlier, I’d come out of the line a little bit on Joe Westerman and ended up missing him. That gave them field position to score so I was probably the most thankful man in the stadium at that point when Mint (Houghton) did what he did.

Ben Currie looked for all the money in the world that he’s scoring. I think Currie himself has a smile on his face when his body crosses the line until he realises the ball’s just been knocked out enough to prevent him touching down.

I remember just feeling that relief. I couldn’t believe it had just happened – but also ‘how do we just hold on now?’

The way we played in that game, though, was very much us in 2016. For this book, I think I counted up that that campaign we came from behind 16 times to win games.

It was that resilience we’d shown throughout the season in 2016 that we showed when it really mattered at Wembley.

At the end, there’s that euphoric feeling when that final whistle goes. You realise you’ve done it.

Nothing can change it; there’s no Ben Currie moments or anyone else going to score.

Then the realisation that you’re about to do it. Lift the Cup. It does feel like a dream come true. It’s a magical moment and why the Challenge Cup holds a really special place in my heart.

Before that game versus Warrington, I’d had all the fear and anxiety but, as captain, you have to put those feelings slightly to one side and not show them.

Obviously, if you’re the one who looks nervous and on edge, it’s going to portray that to the rest of the boys.

It’s really important you have a bit of a poker face. You have to be a good actor.

Before going out, the last words were about just going out and playing the way we play. We knew we were a dominant, strong, powerful team and I told them to enjoy it and make the most of the opportunity.

I wouldn’t have said it but the feeling very much was let’s not come off the field feeling like we did in 2013.

The book end of that is then going up those stairs to get the trophy.

After the final whistle and that euphoria, you switch to that feeling of wanting to take it all in.

I’d been in a few situations earlier in my career where I took them for granted so I was really conscious of soaking it all up as you walk up the stairs and people pat you on your back, and there’s scarves being put on you and the boys behind are getting black and white wigs.

Then you get under the gantry and they hold you for a bit before you make those last few steps up and you see the Cup for the first time and all the dignitaries lined up.

And it’s like a flashback of your own life, watching those moments when I’ve been standing in the stand watching Castleford get the Cup. Your heroes you get to see do it.

I thought my Challenge Cup moments would have been growing up watching others do it. It’s part of me growing up and I would never have thought I’d get that opportunity to do it.

But it’s a place in history now that can’t be taken away and something me and my family will remember forever.

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