The 1914 Challenge Cup final was Hull’s fourth final appearance and after three close defeats, the clubs first win in the eighteenth year of the competitions existence.
It’s a team and an era, sadly due to the fact that it was a few generations ago, that doesn’t get talked about much, but it was arguably one of Hull FC’s greatest ever sides, featuring all-time greats such as Jack Harrison, Alfred Francis, and the clubs one and only Rugby League Hall of Fame member, the legendary Billy Batten.
Established as a powerhouse of early Northern Football Union after the breakaway from their southern counterparts, Hull and final participation were common, but cold feet were also apparent on the big stage. This time though was different. Hull defeated Wakefield Trinity 6-0 for their first taste of Rugby League’s most prestigious competition, in fact their first ever taste of major silverware, with Harrison and Francis scoring the tries that day.
Batten of course was a key feature in the side, and played his part in the final at Halifax’s historic Thrum Hall ground. The Athletic News stated after the game, “In the daring raids of Hull in the second half it was Batten who, with the ball under his arm, ploughed through the ranks of the defenders and left beaten opponents in his triumphal course. His courage and determination without doubt inspired his colleagues to rally round in the closing stages of the game.”
That’s the type of player Batten was. He turned down football giant Manchester United whilst at Hunslet and then signed for Hull for a then world record fee of £600 in 1913. Following the Challenge Cup triumph, Batten led the Airlie Birds to every honour in the game, including the Yorkshire Cup, Yorkshire League, and back-to-back League Championships. He remains to this day one of the greatest ever players to not only have played for Hull, but the game of rugby league too. He was best known for his powerful centre play and rather than going around an opponent, he preferred to go over the top of them. He perfected a famous leap (that was later banned) making him one of the most difficult players to bring to ground. Batten was just as fearsome in defence and mastered the smother tackle, which was described at the time as being “hit by a ton of coal”.
During a long and successful career Batten played 226 games for Hull, scoring 89 tries and was paid £14 a game, which was a huge fee back then. Both an England and Great Britain star, history documents that the right centre, who wore the iconic number three shirt, was worth an extra £500 a game to gate receipts, with Hull actually advertising “Batten certain to play” over posters advertising their home games at the Boulevard ground.
Batten was an absolute icon of his era, with his benefit match, known as a testimonial game today, raising an incredible £1,079, which again back then was a huge amount of money. Batten left Hull in 1924, signing for hometown club Wakefield for a fee of £350.
Aside from Batten, that Cup winning side featured some true greats. We all know Jack Harrison, the speedy Hull winger who had a devastating swerving ability, and holds the record for the most tries in a single season with 52. Harrison scored a grand total of 106 tries in 116 games for Hull, a prolific record as well as any, and he would have scored bucket loads more if his career wasn’t cut short due to the outbreak of World War One. It was as an acting serviceman though where his most incredible achievements came, awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. He gave his life to save his platoon and sadly his body was never recovered.
On the other wing at Thrum Hall, Hull fielded Welshman Alf Francis, who commendably is the clubs fourth all-time highest try-scorer with 166 tries in 245 games. Francis was actually first scouted by Rovers, who then decided he was too small and recommended him to Hull – then again they have always had poor judgement. At fullback Hull had Ned Rodgers, the clubs all-time appearance maker with an incredible 500 games under his belt. It really was a star-studded team that tasted glory on a sunny but windy day, a repeat of the 1909 final between the two sides.
Hull were favourites, they were fourth in the league at the time, and they were handed a huge beneficiary when Wakefield’s Herbert Kershaw was sent off. Hull then began to control the game. The Black and Whites, playing in those iconic black and white irregular hoops, also had some of the finest Australians at the time in the side, the likes of Herb Gilbert and Jimmy Devereux. It was Gilbert, then captain of the side, who assisted Francis for his try, but not before Batten had put Harrison over on the opposite wing. Both kicks at goal were missed.
Those Aussie lads had a big pedigree. Devereux, signed imminently after touring Great Britain with Australia, was the first ever Hull FC player to reach 100 tries for the club. Born in Tenterfield, New South Wales, he also served in the Great War and luckily survived to resume his playing career with Hull. Gilbert also signed for Hull whilst playing for the Kangaroos, but returned to Australia when the war broke out.
Hull in a successful 1913-14 season, had beaten Salford, Featherstone, Halifax and Huddersfield on the way to the final. The league was won by Huddersfield that year, and the play-offs or ‘Championship’ by Salford. Hull finished fourth in the league, losing 24-3 to Huddersfield in the play-off game.
After three previous defeats on the big stage, the Thrum Hall crowd of 19,000, a large proportion of which were from Hull, were jubilant to their team’s Challenge Cup achievement. It was a whopping 68 years before Hull would see the trophy at the Boulevard again, and then 23 years after that. This though was the first, and achieved by a special and historic group of players.
Hull Side: Ned Rogers, Jack Harrison, Billy Batten, Herb Gilbert, Alfred Francis, Jim Devereux, Billie Anderson, Tom Herridge, William Holder, Dick Taylor, Percy Oldham, Joe Hammill, Steve Darmody.
Wakefield Trinity Side: Leonard Land, Benjamin Johnson, William Lynch, Thomas Poynton, Bruce Howarth, Jonty Parkin, William Milligan, Albert Dixon, Arthur Crosland, William Beattie, Herbert Kershaw, Ernest Parkin, Arthur Burton.
This article first appeared in Issue 73 of the Up the Cream fanzine. For more Hull FC nostalgia and opinion check out our online shop here