JOSH MANTELLATO admits loyal Hull KR fans deserve a “new generation of stars” – and he wants to be one of them as they seek to emulate the Challenge Cup heroics of 1980.
Gutsy Rovers caused a major shock by defeating Warrington Wolves 26-18 in Saturday’s semi-final at Headingley which sets up an all-Yorkshire showpiece against holders Leeds Rhinos at Wembley on August 29.
It is the second year running the Broad Acres has dominated the famous competition after Leeds defeated Castleford Tigers there 12 months ago.
However, the last time Rovers visited Wembley for such an occasion was as far back as 1986 when they lost to Castleford.
Their sole success in the sport’s oldest tournament was in 1980 when they famously beat fierce rivals Hull, something the Robins have never let their neighbours forget.
However, while Hull FC have since lifted the Challenge Cup at Cardiff in 2005, played in the following year’s Grand Final and visited Wembley twice more, Rovers have been starved of success.
But chairman Neil Hudgell reckons they could take up to 30,000 fans to London and winger Mantellato, Saturday’s man-of-the-match after an all-action display, hopes to give them something to savour.
Thousands of ecstatic red and white supporters rejoiced at Headingley and he said: “The city of Hull really gets behind their team, and Rovers fans love this competition.
“They haven’t tasted success in it for 35 years and they’re begging for a new generation of stars to come through and make new memories for them.
“With those fans roaring us on it gives us that extra motivation to want to go out there and create history.
“You can feel the bond the club has with the cup; there were fans I saw in the stands crying. It’s a privilege to help try create history with them.
“I’ve never been to Wembley and it sounds unbelievable to hear that I’m actually going. I’m still pinching myself and trying to work out if it’s all real.
“This is going to be a whole other experience for my career and my life.”
Mantellato, 28, has been one of the signings of the season having joined last winter as a little-known player from National RL club Newcastle Knights where he had been playing reserve grade.
He scored his 19th try of the campaign against Warrington and booted another five goals as Chris Chester’s side – who had lost four successive games beforehand – held on in the rain in famous style.
On his own story, Mantellato admitted: “It’s an incredible journey. I bit the bullet and came over here at an older age than most, and I haven’t looked back since.
“I’m riding the roller-coaster at the moment and right now we’re on top of the world.
“We invited Warrington back into it but we rode it out, weathered it and got the job done.
“They came back to within two points and there was a bit of nerves out there, but we had a big chat behind the posts getting in tight and saying ‘it’s all or nothing’. We all showed up.”
Phil Lowe, one of the stars of that 1980 final, went into the Headingley changing rooms afterwards to congratulate Chester and his squad.
“It’s been a long time coming but they played incredibly well and this was no fluke,” said the World Cup-winning former Great Britain second-row.
“It’d be fantastic to go on and win it but Leeds are a very good side and we’ll have to play even better at Wembley.”
They are already priced as big 3-1 underdogs which is perhaps no surprise given the manner of Leeds’s stunning semi-final win over St Helens.
The Super League leaders, who have reached Wembley in five of the last six years, remain on course for a first treble.
Their dramatic 24-14 victory was the first time a Challenge Cup semi-final had been televised live on a Friday night.
However, it was viewed by 1.3m viewers on BBC2, a staggering 69 per cent increase on the 2014 figures and success which points to Friday now being its regular slot.
Hull KR rounded off a terrific Yorkshire Day on Saturday by hosting the WBC lightweight title eliminator when Luke Campbell stopped fellow Hull boxer Tommy Coyle in the 10th round.
Meanwhile, Leeds prop Jamie Peacock will play his last Challenge Cup final – against the side he joins as football manager once he retires at the end of the season.
Rhinos star Briscoe targets old foes: Page 2 Hull KR report: Page 3