BEFOREHAND, Lee Radford had highlighted the danger Wigan Warriors’ George Williams, more than anyone, would pose his Hull FC side in this Challenge Cup final given the England stand-off’s stellar short-kicking game.
By the end of an epic finale, though, it was only the kicking prowess of his own half-back Marc Sneyd that people wanted to eulogise about.
The Airlie Birds No 7 produced one of the most complete displays of that art form ever witnessed in the Wembley showpiece to see Hull retain the Cup but also become the first player to win outright the Lance Todd Trophy in successive years.
Sneyd simply terrorised baffled Wigan with the accuracy of his left boot, a mixture of telling kicks including one crucial 40/20 in the second half that enabled his side to build up an 18-10 lead their relentless defence would then just – the emphasis on just – manage to protect during a thrilling conclusion.
Watching on from the stands was Andy Farrell, the former Wigan and Great Britain captain, who knows a thing or two about kicking himself, with his son Owen, the England and British Lions fly-half, whose own repertoire is not too shabby either.
As much as it will have pained them seeing their hometown club being dissected by Sneyd’s pinpoint precision, they will have admired his talent as well, as must onlooking Garry Schofield, the ex-Hull centre who played in the classic 1985 final between these sides and has, at times, been one of the 26-year-old’s biggest critics.
Sneyd simply terrorised baffled Wigan with the accuracy of his left boot, a mixture of telling kicks including one crucial 40/20 in the second half that enabled his side to build up an 18-10 lead their relentless defence would then just – the emphasis on just – manage to protect.Dave Craven
Undoubtedly, Sneyd has drawn criticism before, often unfair and unwarranted, but such is his cool demeanour he has always remained unperturbed.
Indeed, in the post-match press conference, when asked if it did affect him, Sneyd did not have time to answer before Gareth Ellis, the Hull captain playing his last Challenge Cup final before retiring, interjected: “No, he’s more bothered about checking the Man United score!”
Radford confirmed that ascertaining the result against Leicester at Old Trafford, in fact, was the first thing Sneyd asked him when back in the ecstatic Wembley dressing room.
A diehard Red Devils fan, it is perhaps no surprise the Oldham-born player is so good with his feet, twice lofting kicks that led to tries, for Fetuli Talanoa and then, after a fine chase and palm down by Albert Kelly, the first of Mahe Fonua’s brace.
People forget that it was only three years ago that Sneyd was ‘hooked’ just 25 minutes into his first Wembley appearance with Castleford Tigers as they lost to Leeds Rhinos.
He does not stay down for long.
“In my eyes it helped me out a lot that loss, that disappointment, as the next time I came I was prepared for it a lot more,” explained Sneyd, whose kicking quality was crucial in that win over Warrington Wolves 12 months ago, Hull’s long-awaited first-ever victory at Wembley.
“I knew how to take it in more. I never wanted to feel that again so it probably made me go a lot better. As for criticism, I enjoy going home after a game, sitting on Twitter looking at a few people giving me stick.
“You give them a little ‘favourite’ and can just imagine what they’re like sat at home snapping while you’re laughing your head off. The (Lance Todd) trophy can go back in my window now. It got picked up last week but I won’t have to replace it anymore. It can go straight back up. Anyone who comes in, it’s one of the first things they’ll see. Winning the Cup was the main thing, though. This is just a bonus.”
Australian Kelly had his own Wembley nightmares to banish having been in the Hull KR side humiliated 50-0 by Leeds in 2015.
The stand-off came up with some classy moments of his own while juggernaut prop Liam Watts was colossal, producing a series of hard-hitting carries to drain the Wigan defence. Jamie Shaul was excellent, delivering a vital try-saving tackle on Joe Burgess as Shaun Wane’s side threatened a comeback.
It was hard to get away from Sneyd, though, whose faultless goalkicking – three from three compared to Williams’s solitary conversion – was the difference on the scoreboard.
“I’m sure he had that football on a string,” admitted Kelly.
“He lays it in the right place from the word go. He was outstanding. His 40/20 helped change the game.
“Your best players should be criticised each game. It does fall on him all the time because he’s the colonel. But he’s a double double winner now!”
Fonua was asked how Sneyd ranked compared to other sevens he had played with. After a brief pause, the former Melbourne Storm star answered: “He is a really good player. But the only other seven I’ve really played alongside is Cooper Cronk so….!”
Clearly, Sneyd cannot be compared to the Kangaroos legend but his importance to this double-chasing Hull side is unquestioned. The £100,000 they paid Salford Red Devils at the end of 2014, which many raised an eyebrow at, now seems a snip.
This was the perfect way to respond after Hull’s forgettable 16-0 loss to Wigan in the 2013 final although the Warriors – who trailed 12-10 at the break after John Bateman and Oliver Gildart tries – know they could have at least sent it into extra-time at the death.
Burgess scored in the 73rd minute then raced in with just 50 seconds left only to dramatically be denied due to a forward pass.
Earlier, Tony Clubb had an effort strangely ruled out, too, although Fonua had a hat-trick try chalked off perhaps harshly.
Regardless, this was Hull’s day. And Sneyd’s yet again.