Gareth Ellis – Challenge Cup still has aura that makes it so special to be part of

Hull FC's Gareth Ellis celebrate at the final whistle after beating Wigan in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in 2016. Picture by Richard Blaxall/SWpix.com
Hull FC's Gareth Ellis celebrate at the final whistle after beating Wigan in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in 2016. Picture by Richard Blaxall/SWpix.com
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IT’S Challenge Cup week when some of the Super League clubs enter the fray and we can all start thinking about Wembley again.

It is strange that I can even say that. Obviously, having retired at the end of 2017 – not long after lifting the Cup with Hull – I never thought I’d be in a position to ever think about it again.

Hull FC's Gareth Ellis celebrates at the end of the Challenge Cup Final against Wigan at Wembley. Picture: Paul Harding/PA

Hull FC's Gareth Ellis celebrates at the end of the Challenge Cup Final against Wigan at Wembley. Picture: Paul Harding/PA

But it’s been funny as when I came back, and started playing again recently, after a couple of games a few people said, ‘You never know, it could be another Challenge Cup on the horizon.’

It does make me think. It is nice to imagine what that would be like to do it all again having done so with Hull in 2016 and 2017.

I remember speaking when I retired about how, after winning the Challenge Cup final and experiencing those highs, you wonder where those highs are going to come from again as a retired player.

You have to try and learn, I suppose, and appreciate the fact that you did it and experienced the highs rather than resenting the fact that you can’t do it again.

For me, it is key that it stays at Wembley; that is the beauty of the Challenge Cup – its spiritual home is Wembley. I certainly know that the Hull fans wouldn’t have been happy if it had have been anywhere else when we won it in 2016.

Gareth Ellis

Not everyone gets the chance to do that. The best you can get as a supporter is seeing your team win.

So, actually being the person that stands up on the balcony and lifts the trophy, I can’t put into words just how happy you are at that moment, sharing it alongside your teammates.

With the Challenge Cup coming around again now, and us soon to find out who we’ll get in the sixth round, it has become a bit of a reality; you only have to win three games to get to Wembley and you’re there.

First up, though, teams like Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR are in action.

Hull FC's Gareth Ellis celebrates with the trophy after the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. Picture: Paul Harding/PA

Hull FC's Gareth Ellis celebrates with the trophy after the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. Picture: Paul Harding/PA

I know Leon Pryce – my old Hull and Great Britain team-mate – will really have Workington Town fired up for Friday’s trip to Headingley hoping for an upset.

That’s the beauty of these sorts of games when the lower division clubs come in.

Before that my old amateur club Castleford Lock Lane played against Batley Bulldogs in the last round.

I was at my dad’s the other day and he has a bit of a trophy cabinet there.

The kids were going through it with all my bits and pieces from throughout my career.

But there was a shield stuck at the back of it all and it’s one of my dad’s, presented to him when he played for Lock Lane against Wigan in the Challenge Cup in the late ’70s.

Obviously I’ve heard about it before, but that is a big moment for someone who doesn’t get to play at the top level or to get to play against people like that.

That was one of the highlights of his career and for Lock Lane playing last week against Batley – a big step up in terms of class and quality – that’ll be something those lads remember forever, too.

It goes up a step again for Workington – a League One club – playing against a team as good as Leeds have been for the last 10 to 15 years.

They’ll have nothing to lose and will go into that game in a real good spirit.

Some people argue that all Super League clubs – not just the previous season’s bottom four – should play a round earlier to create the chance of more upsets and big days for smaller teams.

But I just think that, at this stage, you can’t add more games. I don’t think there’s any way around it.

And you can say you’ve earned the right to come in at the next stage by where you’ve finished the previous year.

Ideally, it’s probably not level. But I suppose if you speak to a football person they’d say the play-offs aren’t level either; they are all about first past the post to be champions.

This Challenge Cup system has its drawbacks but its plus sides, too. We’re already seeing a lot of injuries in recent weeks and I think a lot of that is down to the amount of training and playing the lads have to do, so playing an added game would only worsen that.

I wouldn’t really alter anything about the make-up of the Challenge Cup.

For me it is key that it stays at Wembley; that is the beauty of the Challenge Cup – its spiritual home is Wembley.

I certainly know that the Hull fans wouldn’t have been happy if it had have been anywhere else when we won it in 2016.

But it would be nice to think that international rugby could get back there as well like it used to be when it was Wembley, old Trafford and Elland Road – that’s what I remember growing up.

You speak to people and you get the impression the Challenge Cup may be losing a little bit of its appeal when you look at some of the attendances and things like that.

But, for me, growing up with it and people of my age, we hold it in such high regard.

There’s a real aura surrounding it to the point even when you’ve played three or four hundred games you get to the Challenge Cup final and it can still get the better of you.

It did with me in 2005 and even in 2016. You feel drained after 10 minutes. But you get through it. You have to do.