Challenge Cup: Hull FC can end Wembley 'curse' against Warrington, says Paul Cooke

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport
Cooke serves up Challenge Cup treat
Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final
Venue: Wembley Stadium Date: Saturday 27 August Kick-off: 15:00 BST Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio Humberside, BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Merseyside; live text commentary on BBC Sport website.

Paul Cooke retired a player assured of a place in Hull FC's Challenge Cup folklore, but he would give anything to once again conjure a cup-winning moment against Warrington at Wembley on Saturday.

And with it, end his former club's hoodoo at the national stadium - a victory that would again see the black and white half of Hull party in the streets and forever silence the other half of the city.

Cooke was the hero in the 2005 showpiece, crossing to put the Airlie Birds within a Danny Brough conversion of victory against Leeds Rhinos.

However, that success was at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium with Wembley being rebuilt - and not getting the chance to play at the national stadium remains a minor frustration in a fine career.

"If I could pull the kit on for one more game, this would be the one," the 35-year-old told BBC Sport.

"If I could play just 20 minutes and get off - never to play again - that would do me."

Hull's Wembley hoodoo

Richard Whiting
Richard Whiting was part of the Hull FC side that lost the 2013 Challenge Cup final 16-0 against Wigan Warriors

Cooke is not alone in missing out on Wembley glory, certainly not in his home city.

Those of a black and white persuasion in Kingston-upon-Hull find it difficult to escape a long-standing Wembley curse.

In eight visits to the new and old national stadium since their first in 1959, they have failed to win on each occasion.

The statistic has been enthusiastically rendered into a version of the Hull FC anthem 'Old Faithful' by Hull KR fans from the opposite side of the city.

"I'm still very good friends with head coach Lee Radford, and the Rovers song is a real bugbear of Lee's and the club's," Cooke said.

"If they win it, it takes away that tune from the other side of the city, which is a big motivation for the local boys. It'll certainly quieten down the other side of the city, at least for one song."

Revisiting glory

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The 2005 final was another triumph for the management skills of then-head coach John Kear, who had steered Sheffield Eagles to an unlikely 1998 success against Wigan Warriors.

Those who could not celebrate with the team at the Millennium Stadium were able to join in the moment when the team returned to the city for the parade.

"When you go back home the full city comes out," Cooke continued. "The whole open-top bus ride from the Costello Stadium, down the Anlaby Road all the way past the KC and into the town centre - there's just this sea of black and white.

"I don't remember it too much with the amount of alcohol that was consumed post-game, but you vaguely remember it and see the pictures, which helps me remember the noise there and how special it was for people."

Unfamiliar position

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Not since 1983's shock defeat by Featherstone under the old twin towers has any Hull side been so hotly-tipped for success in a Wembley final.

That year, a champion squad containing world-class stars such as Gary Kemble, Dane O'Hara, David Topliss and James Leuluai was beaten by Allan Agar's giantkillers from Post Office Road.

The Airlie Birds of 2016 go into this final as Super League leaders, a point clear of their opponents Warrington.

"The pressure wasn't so big in 2005 because we were such big underdogs," Cooke said. "Leeds Rhinos should have and could have won that final and the bookies made them favourites, so the pressure was off.

"I think this year Hull may be favourites against Warrington and they've beaten them twice already this season.

"The pressure is what you put on yourself as a player. The squad will put themselves under pressure and the team, the coaching staff, they'll build that bubble within that no-one can pierce and hopefully do what they set out to do better than Warrington."

Local pride

Hull FC celebrate Paul Cook's late try at Cardiff
Kirk Yeaman (2nd right) is the only surviving player in this year's team to have played in 2005

Although Cooke had red and white affections as a lad growing up in Hull, he understood what the 2005 final meant to those on the west side of the river.

International team-mates such as Motu Tony, Nathan Blacklock, Stephen Kearney and skipper Richard Swain were given a taste of the passions involved, surrounded by locals like Cooke, Richard Horne, Danny Brough, Kirk Yeaman and Paul King.

The same could be applied to the current squad, with Hull-born and raised Radford in charge of a side knitted together by hometown talent.

"When I was at Hull KR, Justin Morgan would leave the talk in derby week to the local players to speak pre-game, and it'll be no different this week for Hull FC," Cooke added.

"I think Kirk is the only surviving member of that 2005 team still playing for Hull, he'll speak. Danny Houghton no doubt will speak, Scott Taylor, who's come back to the city and a black and white as well, and Danny Washbrook.

"There are lots of local players who can voice their opinion on what it means to themselves, mums, dads and grandmas. They will take over the emotion and speaking from the heart."

The next Paul Cooke?

Cooke will be at the game on Saturday with his family on the invitation of the club - a gesture that means a lot to him after his acrimonious departure from Hull to Rovers in 2007.

He predicts Hull will come out on top, but what of the potential match-winner? Who will step up to be 2016's Paul Cooke?

"I'm not sure who it will be or why it will be them," he said. "The 17 that are fortunate enough to go out there are just that, they've got a chance to influence this result and write themselves into history.

"That's a big opportunity, I couldn't care whether it's Carlos Tuimavave or Frank Pritchard, Yeaman or Shaul, or Houghton - to get over the line would be massive for the city and the club.

"Hopefully, this year Hull FC can come away with that elusive victory at Wembley, it's 11 years and that's a long time between drinks for a lot of people."

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