Challenge Cup: Danny Houghton hopes Hull FC can take their chances against Leeds Rhinos

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DANNY HOUGHTON still gets stopped in the street in his home city of Hull to be asked about that tackle.

Perhaps the reigning Man of Steel always will or at least for as long as he resides there.

In the 78th minute of last year’s Challenge Cup final, with his exhausted side desperately trying to hang on for glory, Hull’s tenacious hooker produced a stunning tackle to deny Warrington Wolves’ Ben Currie a match-winning try.

Remarkably, it was Houghton’s 52nd tackle of the game and helped the East Yorkshire club at last end their 74-year wait for a win at Wembley.

It is ingrained in Airlie Birds folklore and grains of another type, too – Houghton launched a beer called Tackle 52 last month celebrating the iconic moment.

Hull hope to take another step towards retaining the trophy today when they face Leeds Rhinos in the semi-final at Doncaster.

Danny Houghton celebrates with Hull FC fans after the club's Challenge Cup final win last year (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

Danny Houghton celebrates with Hull FC fans after the club's Challenge Cup final win last year (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

But people still want to talk to him about that famous collision.

“And they all ask the same question, to be fair,” he said, when speaking to The Yorkshire Post earlier this week.

“‘What was going through your head at the time?’ And it was nothing. Nothing was going through my head at the time. I couldn’t even breathe.

“It was more the point of being in the right place at the right time and having to pull the tackle off.

We want to really fight for it and make sure we give ourselves a real chance of retaining it. The memories we had last year as a team and club we will cherish and talk about forever.

Hull FC’s Danny Houghton

“In terms of what I had to think about, I didn’t have time to. It was just a split-second.”

If there comes a point in today’s game where such a decisive intervention is needed, you would imagine Houghton would be the man on the spot.

Even though he has missed seven of Hull’s 23 Super League games this season due to injury, he has regained his customary lead at the top of the competition’s tackling stakes,

Houghton, who has been Super League’s top tackler for the last two years, has moved to 819, just four ahead of Matt Parcell, the Leeds Rhinos hooker he faces today who was rested for their game at Wigan last week.

LEADING MAN: Hull FC's Danny Houghton.
 Picture: Bruce Rollinson

LEADING MAN: Hull FC's Danny Houghton. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

At just 5ft 8ins, Houghton has continued to prove size does not matter when it comes to felling elite opponents.

“I saw that stat, but I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing that people keep spotting me up and running at me all the time or that I do a lot of graft,” he continued.

“But I do like to tell the boys I’m doing all their work for them.

“As hooker you’re in the middle of the park and I do like to pride myself in doing the little things that go unnoticed.

“But in the middle of the field the bigger boys can either run at Gaz Ellis or me. I don’t know why they run at me. I’d rather run at Gaz than me.”

There is a definite touch of mocking in the 28-year-old’s tone; granite-like loose forward Ellis returned from a long-term injury last week to produce some thunderous hits, which all Hull fans will hope he can now reproduce against his former club Leeds.

Houghton, who earned a place in Wayne Bennett’s England elite training squad in January only to be omitted in the final cull, expects a tense affair in the forthcoming battle for a place at Wembley.

Hull, who finished the regular campaign in third spot, were unlucky not to win at Leeds barely a fortnight ago before losing out 10-7.

It was an eighth successive defeat against the West Yorkshire club, who are seeking a third Challenge Cup win in four years.

“I think you’ll see what you saw at Headingley a couple of weeks ago; a real nitty-gritty ding-dong affair where both sides have a fair share in periods of the game,” said Houghton.

“Hopefully this time we can capitalise on the chances we create and finish them off.

“I think that (losing) record is irrelevant in terms of going into a Challenge Cup semi-final; it’s knockout rugby.

“We’ve had some success against Leeds at our own place and in cup rounds in the past so there’s no need to dwell on that.

“We’ve just been thinking about Saturday and getting the job done to get to Wembley.”

The last time Hull beat Leeds in a Challenge Cup tie, though, was the 2005 final win in Cardiff, two years before Houghton made his Black and Whites debut.

Rhinos have won the other seven Cup games dating back to the 2000 semi-final victory.

Meanwhile, Houghton is an admirer of Parcell, the Australian hooker who has made such an impact for Leeds since joining from Manly Sea Eagles last December.

He said: “He has been a good signing. He’s what Leeds are; he’s off-the-cuff, quick and a smart player.

“He’s one we’ll have to keep an eye on as well as Joel Moon as both are in really good form and, like I say, they’re what Leeds are. Give them a chance they’ll take it.”

Hull have their own chance, though, to enhance their hero status even further after last year’s wondrous result.

Their appetite is not sated. Houghton confirmed: “Champion teams retain the trophy and we don’t want to be known as a club that are one-hit wonders or just one shot in the dark.

“We want to really fight for it and make sure we give ourselves a real chance of retaining it.

“The memories we had last year as a team and club we will cherish and talk about forever.

“If we can repeat that and hopefully get those experiences back again so soon it’d be great.”

It is a sign of Hull’s growing stature – they led Super League for most of last season before tailing off after Wembley – that they have been invited by Wigan Warriors to play in Wollongong in Australia next February.

It will be the first Super League game to be held outside of Europe and Houghton said: “It’s a big statement from Super League and for our club as well.

“It’s something players might never get the chance to do – go play in Australia – and although we’re going to try and hopefully get the job done against Wigan it’ll be great to have some experiences out there and enjoy each other’s company as well.”

And no doubt, even 10,000 miles away, be asked by an intrepid Hull FC fan about that tackle.