Challenge Cup semi-finals: Lee Radford's Hull FC reign 'like a Rocky movie'

Gareth Ellis and Lee Radford
Hull FC had never won a Challenge Cup final at Wembley before victories in consecutive seasons under Lee Radford (right) in 2016 and 2017

Hull FC coach Lee Radford reckons his six years in charge of the Airlie Birds has been like starring in a Rocky movie.

Radford could be on the verge of leading his side to a third Challenge Cup final in four years as the 2016 and 2017 winners take on Warrington Wolves in Saturday's semi-final at the University of Bolton Stadium.

They are also currently third in Super League, with realistic ambitions to reach the Grand Final at the end of the season.

But the former England international has had to survive a few potential knockout blows in his role as Hull's head coach.

Four years ago, many of the club's fans were calling for his sacking as his side stuttered. They wore 'Radford Out' T-shirts to share their displeasure in the coach.

"They still do, some of them are still wearing them," said Radford with a chuckle.

"At the beginning of this year, we'd lost 13 games on the bounce and they were calling for my head again."

But he survived and fights on, with the potential to become one the club's most decorated coaches.

"It's like a Rocky film where he gets knocked down in round six and he's stumbling all over, and then he gets back up again and he comes back swinging," says Radford.

"Rocky gets to snog Adrian at the end of the movie, so hopefully I'm snogging Adrian at some point this year." he laughs. "The Challenge Cup… that could be my Adrian."

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Challenge Cup final: Hull FC 12-10 Warrington Wolves

Hull had famously never won at Wembley until Radford's side lifted the trophy there in 2016, against Warrington. And they did it again a year later, beating Wigan at the national stadium.

"I think those memories can only work in our favour," said Radford.

"A lot of the group have been together since then, so they know and appreciate how special going there and getting that result is and what it means to the city.

"I think that can only work in our favour. Once you've tasted it, you just want to fill your face with the stuff."

Radford has his own emotional attachment with rugby league's oldest knockout trophy.

He won it as a Bradford player, captained Hull in a final, albeit in defeat, before coaching his hometown team to those two history-making final victories.

"I also made my debut as a player in the Challenge Cup," he says. "I was a 16-year-old against Hunslet. I looked like Bambi back then.

"It has a special place in my heart.

"The fact that we're so close, 80 minutes away from walking out there again, these are the games you want to be involved in."

When the semi-final line-up was drawn in early June, Warrington looked nailed on to finish at least second in the league and Hull were struggling to find consistent form.

But eight weeks later, Hull are now breathing down the Wolves' necks, only two points behind them in the league - and Warrington have lost their past two games.

Not that Radford is reading too much into league form.

"I think it goes out of the window in the cup," he added. "There's not a lot between the two sides.

"Like most semi-finals, whoever gets the momentum on the day and makes the most of their opportunities on the day, comes away with the spoils.

"We're hoping we've got the characters and the skill to do that."

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