Hull KR forward Elliot Minchella returns to Wembley as key man after using Leeds Rhinos pain as fuel

A Challenge Cup final acts as a landmark moment for rugby league players.

The veterans on show – including Hull KR captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall who is on the brink of retirement – have been there and done it but know they may not get another crack at a major final.

For debutants like Rovers team-mate Elliot Minchella, Saturday's Wembley showpiece is a step into the unknown.

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His chances of appearing in a major final appeared slim when he left Leeds Rhinos under a cloud in 2015 after being involved in an assault.

Minchella and Zak Hardaker, who will line up for Leigh Leopards this weekend, were released without charge but had to pay compensation to their victim and issue a written apology.

The forward was fined half a month’s salary, received a written warning and never played for Leeds again.

Minchella was sent out on loan to Championship club London Broncos and had spells with Sheffield Eagles and Bradford Bulls before eventually returning to Super League with Hull KR at the end of 2019.

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The 27-year-old paid a heavy price for his indiscretion but it has been the making of him.

Elliot Minchella celebrates the semi-final win over Wigan. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)Elliot Minchella celebrates the semi-final win over Wigan. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)
Elliot Minchella celebrates the semi-final win over Wigan. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)

"Unfortunately that ended the way it did but it's given me the motivation to be in these sort of games," the Rovers vice-captain told The Yorkshire Post.

"I've been in the Championship, League 1 and back to the Championship. Every experience and every moment has been a stepping stone.

"I'm proud of the journey I've been on and that I get to run out at Wembley on Saturday.

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"But at the end of the day, I want to walk up the steps as a winner of the Challenge Cup and not as a loser. That's driving me as well."

The forward played six games for the Rhinos. (Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)The forward played six games for the Rhinos. (Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)
The forward played six games for the Rhinos. (Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

In 2014, Minchella featured for the Rhinos the week before their Challenge Cup final against Castleford Tigers but had to play the role of spectator at Wembley.

That experience stayed with him as he rebuilt his career.

"I was part of the non-playing squad and went down on the day," added Minchella.

"I don't remember a great deal because I was only 18 but I remember the stadium and atmosphere. It's a great venue for a game of rugby league to be played at.

Elliot Minchella has emerged as a leader at Hull KR. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)Elliot Minchella has emerged as a leader at Hull KR. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
Elliot Minchella has emerged as a leader at Hull KR. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
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"I tried to enjoy the day for what it was by taking it all in. Almost 10 years later, I get the chance to do it myself.

"I'm very grateful to be in this position and excited for it as well."

Minchella's love affair with the cup began 20 years ago as a young Bradford supporter.

On Saturday, he will look to write his own name into Challenge Cup folklore as Willie Peters’ side aim to become just the second Hull KR team to lift the trophy.

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"The first one I remember is 2003 when the Bulls won it at the Millennium," said Minchella.

"I've seen videos of Robbie Paul scoring a hat-trick at Wembley, which was the year I was born. That's what makes this week so special.

Elliot Minchella is interviewed at Monday's media event. (Photo: Paul Currie/SWpix.com)Elliot Minchella is interviewed at Monday's media event. (Photo: Paul Currie/SWpix.com)
Elliot Minchella is interviewed at Monday's media event. (Photo: Paul Currie/SWpix.com)

"It'd be massive if we could emulate the 1980 team. They're remembered as legends within the club and city.

"To hopefully make history like that is something we're all striving for."

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It has been 38 years since Hull KR last got their hands on a major trophy but they have been building up to this moment.

Rovers fell short in semi-finals in the previous two seasons before making it third time lucky against Wigan Warriors last month.

Regardless of the outcome this weekend, Minchella believes it is the birth of a new dawn for the ambitious Robins.

"We've been knocking on the door for a few years," he said.

"Now we've won a semi-final, I think we're definitely ready to take that next step and win a trophy.

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"With the way we've recruited for next season, the board members we've got on board and the stadium development, everything is positive. It's good we're producing on the field to match what's going on off the field.

"It's just the start. I'm excited to be part of it for the next three and a half years. It's a good place to be."

For long-suffering Rovers fans, the clash with Leigh represents a chance to ease a generation's worth of pain.

Minchella, who has seen the club go from the bottom of Super League to a cup final in his short time at Craven Park, is desperate to give the supporters a day to remember.

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"The fanbase is a massive part of our club," said the hardworking loose forward.

"They're very loyal, very loud and put their hands in their pockets in tough times.

"A win on Saturday would be a way of repaying them. They've waited so long for success.

"I'm hoping I can be involved in a team that brings success to Hull KR again."

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