Minichiello finally on brink of achieving ambition

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IT has taken 15 years to do so, and even his own brother has played a part in denying him thus far, but Mark Minichiello will, at last, get to play in a rugby league final tomorrow.

Hull FC’s Australian forward, who arguably has as much right as captain and fellow back-row Gareth Ellis to be a potential 2016 Man of Steel, will line up against Warrington Wolves at Wembley.

Charging to wembley: Hull FC forward Mark Minichiello on the burst against Wigan Warriors in the Challenge Cup semi-final at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Charging to wembley: Hull FC forward Mark Minichiello on the burst against Wigan Warriors in the Challenge Cup semi-final at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Approaching his 35th birthday, he could be forgiven for thinking such a chance had gone.

It is often forgotten that stellar NRL players can go an entire career without featuring in a showpiece occasion given there is only one trophy – the Grand Final – to aim for.

Minichiello, the younger brother of Kangaroos legend Anthony, has certainly paid the price for that previously.

It is, therefore, fitting that he is not only appearing in the Challenge Cup final tomorrow but is also just 80 minutes away from the Super League Grand Final.

Talking to The Yorkshire Post, he recalled: “I debuted at the (Sydney) Roosters the year they won the Grand Final in 2002 but only played once that season.

“I was in and around it all but didn’t play much part. Fitzy (Craig Fitzgibbon) and Moz (Adrian Morley) were the second-rows.

“The year after, I moved to South Sydney and had four tough years there before moving onto Gold Coast Titans where we got close – but my brother beat us (with Roosters) in the semis to take it away from me!

“Even then he went on to lose but the semi-final experience was great. We had all our family there that day and my parents, my sister and cousin are flying in from Australia to watch on Saturday.

“It’s great to have their support and, hopefully, I will get to celebrate with them at the end of it.

“Most Aussies know of the Challenge Cup but not a lot of us get an opportunity to play at Wembley with the chance to lift it being something really special. I can’t wait to step out there.”

Unfortunately, his brother, the dazzling full-back who played a record 302 times for the Roosters and won the 2005 Golden Boot as the world’s best player, will not be there to see any of the action.

“He was here for the quarter-final against Catalans but couldn’t get back over again,” explained Minichiello, who represented Italy alongside his brother in the 2013 World Cup on these shores.

“He’s always wanted to play at Wembley and never got the opportunity to. He had the chance to join a Super League side once but decided to stay at the Roosters and finish his career there.

“He’s a one-club man – very loyal to the Roosters – and still is. I know he’ll be watching back home and, hopefully, it will be a great afternoon.”

Minichiello’s charging carries and tireless work-rate have seen him marked out as one of Super League’s top players this season, his second campaign since joining Hull from the Titans.

But it is the team spirit that is underpinning the club’s drive for three trophies, the League Leaders’ Shield also being in sight.

“I’ve probably never played in a side with such togetherness,” he admitted.

“I’ve played in some good sides and some not so good but the success we’ve had this year has definitely brought us closer together.

“When you train hard together, you win together and it brings everyone tight. Radders and the rest of the coaching staff have created a really great atmosphere at training; everyone’s always there having a good time. I think that helps. You always play better when everyone’s close, having a joke and laughing and just enjoying each other’s company.

“That’s what we do every day and you see that out on the field.”

Warrington, behind leaders Hull by only a point in Super League, will be fearsome opponents, however.

“We’ve had some good battles with them this year already and the intensity and speed of the game will lift again now,” he said.

“Hopefully, all our guys can go out there and perform to their best. Personally, I think I’m playing some of the best football of my career. I had some really good years back in the NRL but I always wanted this sort of chance; you don’t play sport just to finish midway through the pack.

“To hopefully lift the Challenge Cup trophy – the oldest rugby league competition in the world – at such an iconic stadium, with some real proud history is something really special.”