Bring back the days when rugby league players could have a beer and not get slated for it, or days when a player could twat another player and not get sent off —Wattsy would have loved it!
We all love a good ale after graft, and so did normal human beings Peter Sterling, Dane O’Hara, Kevin James and James Leuluai after we saw off Cas in a Challenge Cup semi-final replay in 1985. Whilst the final against Wigan is remembered as being the greatest of all-time, this semi encounter wasn’t bad either, well the replay wasn’t anyway, the less said about the original bore fest encounter the better.
Of course, Cas are the media darlings of the present day, but back then they were not fancied at all, but still unexpectedly earned a 10-10 draw against Arthur Bunting’s Hull FC in what was in all honesty a pitiful game of rugby league, rescued by a Sterlo try in the contests latter moments. So a replay at Headingley it was, a ground where this Hull team could, unlike the present one, bloody win at. The replay was a midweek night game under the lights, meaning a lot of people skived work early, me included, nothing changes really, does it? The crowd was over 20,000, 12,000 of which were from Hull, and another half of which were scattered around the pubs and bars. It was set, like the Widnes heroics in the round before, to be a special night.
Sterling, now considered an immortal, was immense again despite Cas’ attempts to minimise his impact, or more to the point break his skull, for the game was a warzone. It made the average Boxing Day Derby ruck look like a game of Tiddlywinks such was the ferocity of the contest. Hull lost Gary Kemble after the Kiwi fullback was flattened by one of those swinging arm tackles. He was on the deck for what seemed at the time an eternity and soon left the field with two trainers and the magic sponge to play no further part. Amazingly the referee on the night took no further action and everyone under an FC persuasion was obviously rattled by this.
Before our John could even blast out a chorus of “Where’s your father referee? You ain’t got one cos you’re a bastard referee”, Hull, who were already down to an early Cas try, got their revenge. Get that into yer. On the very next play, John Muggleton laid out their centre Hyde and it was then the Castleford fans’ turn to go ballistic. Normal service resumes, then.
The game was brutal and Hull, obviously with some fire in the belly following the Kemble incident, started to dictate play. O’Hara scored our first try after Crooksy busted the line, and whilst Cas were too concerned with trying to knock our heads off, Sterling produced his magic to score a second try, but Cas soon achieved their goal, with Mal Reilly “slapping” Sterlo at the scrum so hard you could hear it on the banks of the Humber. Sterlo was out until the salts came round and moments later he was, like Kemble, carried off. Feeling a sense of satisfaction after achieving what is now known as “Wigan tactics”, Cas had a spring in their step and scored through Dave Rookley. The score was now level again.
Miraculously so, and something which would no doubt defy every medical doctors advice today, Sterlo returned to the field. They breed um tough don’t they. It inspired Hull, with speedster Kevin James racing away. Crooks, who was probably having the time of his life with all the violence going on, was instrumental yet again, this time sending Leulaui through a gap to make a mug of the full-back and score a great try. Hull had a good lead now but as the hooter sounded for half time all hell broke loose.
Crooks was bizarrely penalised for a voluntary tackled and from that Reilly hoisted a bomb which Sterlo caught behind the posts as six or seven Cas players piled in. There then followed a full 26-man scrap behind the Hull try line which lasted an eternity. Schofield was pummelled whilst a young Lee Crooks picked on probably the hardest man on the field Malcolm Reilly. Doesn’t that just sum him up? Mental. Luckily for all the second half calmed down a bit. Hull’s defence saw them through with just the one Cas try not enough to prevent a 22-16 Hull victory.
After 160 minutes Wembley was beckoning, after one of the most brutal games in living memory. Certainly, it was a contest that makes a mockery of all the dramas now with player welfare, as back then nobody gave a toss about it.
It was still though a great semi-final, remembered most for the outstanding Peter Sterling coming into his own. The greatest Hull FC player of all-time, bar none!