Written by Callum Walker
Photo by RFL
For those wanting some kind of Rugby League fix, an hour’s long program on the great Challenge Cup games on Saturday afternoon and a documentary on the legendary Watersplash final of 1968 broadcast on Sunday, was music to those people’s ears.
Both programs reminded fans just why they love the sport; fast, frenetic and downright exciting and heartbreaking scenes in six cup finals greeted viewers over the weekend. These included Leeds and Saints’ memorable final in 1978 with the former running out 14-12 winners. It was the halfback show in 1985 when Australian pivots Brett Kenny and Peter Sterling went toe-to-toe as Wigan just edged out Hull FC for game number two.
Bradford were then broadcast twice, with their 40-32 defeat to St Helens in 1996 coming first followed by their nail-biting 22-20 victory over Leeds in 2003. And, last but not least, Hull and Warrington’s incredibly tense final in 2016 which, of course, ended with Hull’s first ever victory at Wembley.
Sunday’s Watersplash final documented the 1968 final between Wakefield and Leeds when, after scoring in the last minute, Trinity’s Don Fox missed a conversion in front of the posts. Leeds ran out 11-10 winners – a moment which haunted poor Fox for the rest of his life.
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Though only accumulating two out of the weekend’s 48-hour schedule, it was a superb spectacle, reliving some of the greatest finals. It was an honour to be able to watch some of Rugby League’s heroes take to the old and new Wembley turf, putting in the performances that made the rest of the sport sit up and take note.
From the black-and-white of 1968 to the fully enhanced high-definition of 2016, the sport has changed, but so has society and everything that comes with it. The 90,000-plus cup final crowds of decades ago have, for one reason or another, dwindled to just over 60,000 with the entertainment on show differing from incredible pieces of teamwork and off-the-cuff play to much more structured and battle-of-wits type affairs.
With the current situation regarding the pandemic unlikely to change any time soon, such a rehash of former games, ranging from 50 years ago to just four, was a microcosm of how the sport has developed into the modern era. It felt like a celebration of the history of Rugby League and the history of the oldest competition in the sport. That, in itself, was a joy to watch.