10-5 And All That: Rovers Look To Make New History In Betfred Challenge Cup Final

The Robins' only success came in the 1980 final against Hull FC
12:00, 11 Aug 2023

There’s one result that mattered more than any other for fans of Hull Kingston Rovers and their neighbours Hull FC. Rovers’ 10-5 Challenge Cup final win over their local rivals is still the one that is celebrated long and hard on one side of the River Hull and causes hot sweats on the other.

It was a day which brought a whole city down to Wembley Stadium, with a short TV documentary, ‘All Hull Let Loose’, brilliantly depicting the fervour involved in a most unique rugby league occasion. Red and white or black and white, it was the day everybody wanted to be a part of and the streets of a sport-mad city were deserted as London got a taste of what it means to be a two-team RL town.

But that most memorable of afternoons happened over 43 years ago, and Rovers have never added to that sole Challenge Cup win. More than that, they have been through hell at times, with their very existence threatened during the late-1990s as years of financial mismanagement turned the back-to-back league champions of the mid-80s into an administration-led club sought for purchase only by charlatans looking to merge them with Hull FC and effectively wind the Robins up.


Since 2007 they have been almost ever-present in the Betfred Super League after a revival in fortunes under owner Neil Hudgell, and have become known for being one of the most avidly-followed clubs in the summer era. But success has not followed. They have two play-off match wins to their name since returning to the top flight 16 years ago, and those came 11 years apart.

The closest they have come to silverware was their 2015 Challenge Cup final appearance, but that became a massive moment to forget for Robins supporters as stage-fright set in against a Leeds Rhinos side who were red hot on the day. Rovers lost 50-0, easily a record in the game’s knockout showpiece, and many attribute the club’s relegation 12 months later to some sort of hangover from such an embarrassing loss in the glare of the national audience.

But as they return to Wembley eight years on there is a different feeling about the club. For starters, their off-the-field approach is supportive of a belief that this Challenge Cup run is the beginning of something rather than a stand-alone underdog story. In August 2015 they were attempting to stave off demotion in the short-lived middle 8s format, but this time around they arrive on the big stage as a top-six outfit looking to compete on multiple fronts.


Development plans have been approved around their Craven Park stadium, recruitment has gone up a few notches, and players like the recently retired Lachlan Coote have spoken of a culture shift that is slowly happening in East Hull. NRL Grand Final winners such as captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall and second rower Kane Linnett cannot talk highly enough of Rovers’ efforts to become a regular top-six concern in Super League.

Yet all that will just be bluster if Rovers don’t start to add silver to an honours board that reflects the feats of the 1980s far more readily than the promise of today. On Saturday they face a Leigh Leopards side who have been the talk of rugby league in 2023, yet even having lost twice to the same team already this year there is every reason for Rovers fans to be optimistic.

This is not a Leeds, or a St Helens, or even the Wigan Warriors outfit the red and whites overcame in an epic Headingley semi-final. There is no underdog mentality to cling to in ’23 as there was against the treble-winning Rhinos in ’15. Rovers are on the big stage as equals this time, and their supporters might finally get to feel that 1980 feeling all over again.

If there’s one thing that KR fans hate about that 10-5 win, it’s reflected in the aforementioned documentary. That cup success came when the Humber Bridge was still being built, when hairstyles and clothing were radically different, and the video footage that exists from that day is of the sort of grainy Betamax quality that was consigned to the rubbish bin decades ago.

The players from that day who are still alive are all in their 60s and 70s, the fans are a couple of generations on. When the red and white hordes fill the western approach to Wembley on Saturday, they will be hoping not only for a win but for there not to be another rollercoaster 43-year existence before the next one.

They’re making the right noises off the pitch. Now is the time for Hull KR to do something truly historic on it.


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