A victory at Wembley eluded Hull FC for so many years, but that took nothing away from the eighty minutes of rugby league heaven that adorned the Elland Road turf on the night of the 19th May 1982.
There was a feeling that the Challenge Cup owed Hull. The club last won the trophy at Halifax’s Thrum Hall way back in 1914 and the draw at Wembley aside, Hull had lost the previous five finals they had participated in – three of them in front of the two towers.
Giving strength to what seemed – until their demise at least – a Wembley hoodoo, North-West London was the place of heartache, but for Hull this occasion in Leeds was magical, thanks largely to the talents of their sublime stand-off David Topliss.
After the ‘invincibles’ promotion season, Hull’s squad was on the rise in the early 80s, attracting large crowds with a vibrant brand of rugby league cherished on the Boulevard terraces.
Already possessing the John Player Trophy in the cabinet thanks to a sweet 12-4 victory over Rovers, Hull were a powerhouse in the game having come second in the league and a regular in final participation.
More success was forthcoming, and on the most savoured of nights Arthur Bunting’s Hull FC finally delivered to win the most prestigious of trophies.
Along with Man of the Match Toppo, the likes of Steve Norton, Jimmy Leuluai and co swiftly polished off Widnes following the 14-14 draw in the capital eighteen days prior.
In the electric West Yorkshire atmosphere, a packed to the rafters Elland Road saw the fourth meeting of the two sides in just under a fortnight, with the Chemics comfortably dispatching the Airlie Birds just four days earlier in the Premiership final.
That did little to dilute the tension built up in the massive crowd prior to kick off. After all, the Wembley draw saw Widnes dramatically recover to resist Hull after a league hammering. Tries from Steve Norton and Dane O’Hara that day, not to mention four Sammy Lloyd goals weren’t enough, as a trio of Widnes tries repelled the Airlie Birds’ onslaught. But little did it matter, wearing their glorious irregular hoops, Hull showed remarkable response from that Premiership defeat to lift their first Challenge Cup trophy in 68 years, and only the second in their history.
A memorable occasion, a feast of rugby league excellence was to be delivered, sufficient to even satisfy the most severe critic of the games younger code. Hull out scored Widnes by four tries to one with man of the match Topliss expertly leading the way with a try brace.
The Chemics – as they have done countless times – played their part in a magnificent spectacle, but this was Hull’s night. With his sheepskin coat and cigars ditched for a club blazer, club mastermind Arthur Bunting justified his coach of the year title making – whether through injury, illness or preference – six changes from the Wembley side, not to mention motivating a despondent and downbeat crop of players after a Premiership final defeat.
Thankfully Bunting, Hull’s greatest ever coach, was in his element and his side responded. Captain Topliss scored a try in each half to form the basis of Hull’s victory, and with veterans Tony Duke, Tony Dean and record try scorer Clive Sullivan amongst their ranks, the Airlie Birds were heading for glory.
Widnes goal kicker Mick Burke opened the scoring with a penalty after 18 minutes, but Hull replied with two classy tries from well executed moves.
Gary Kemble went over first, before Topliss used James Leuluai as a decoy to absolute perfection as he exchanged the most delicate of passes with the three-quarter from a scrum for a splendid run-around try. Crooks converted first, but his second effort struck the post.
After the break the resolute nature of a battling Widnes side began to tell. A series of penalties pulled them back into the game. Burke added a further penalty goal, before winger Stuart Wright darted over.
Widnes were now just one point behind Hull, but the Airlie Birds stepped up again with a pass from Norton finding Topliss for his second try.
Burke then added another penalty goal, but any doubt in the result was soon put to bed as the young and quite brilliant Lee Crooks glided through to the posts for the game clinching try, before running towards the Hull fans in the end like a lunatic.
Completing a remarkable victory, Topliss lifted and parading the Challenge Cup trophy around Elland Road after 80 minutes of thrilling action.
Few nights in Hull history have been better than this one, and the scenes of celebration and overwhelming joy was evident in the terraces, on the pitch, and back home as the Hull crowd went wild.
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Gary Kemble, 2. Clive Sullivan, 3. James Leuluai, 4. Steve Evans, 5. Paul Prendiville, 6. David Topliss, 7. Tony Dean, 8. Keith Tindall, 9. Tony Duke, 10. Charlie Stone, 11. Trevor Skerrett, 12. Lee Crooks, 13. Steve Norton. Subs: 14. Tony Day, 15. Mick Crane.
Hull Tries: Topliss 2, Kemble, Crooks. Goals: Crooks 3/4
Widnes Starting XIII: 1. Mick Burke, 2. Stuart Wright, 3. Kieran O’Loughlin, 4. Eddie Cunningham, 5. John Basnett, 6. Eric Hughes, 7. Andy Gregory, 8. Mike O’Neill, 9. Keith Elwell, 10. Brian Lockwood, 11. Les Gorley, 12. Eric Prescott, 13. Mike Adams. Subs: Myler, Whitfield.
Widnes Tries: Wright. Goals: Burke 3/3
Scoring Chart: 0-2, 5-2, 8-2, 8-4, 8-7, 13-7, 13-9, 18-9.
Referee: Fred Lindop (Wakefield)