Challenge Cup Final Debut
On this day ….. 9 May
On 9 May 1964, Rovers made their first appearance at Wembley, in that year’s first Challenge Cup Final.
Over 7,500 Rovers fans made the trip to London by coach and rail excursions alone. But their trip ended in disappointment as Widnes were deserved winners in a game that was played in a spirit that reflected the best of rugby league. They attacked with flair and defended magnificently; and whilst Rovers gave a spirited performance the occasion seemed to get to them.
In hindsight, Rovers’ preparation was not ideal. They spent most of the week before the game training hard on the beach at Cleveleys in Lancashire – too hard, one seasoned campaigner thought; they lost key forward John Taylor, who was controversially suspended two days before the game; and on the Friday before the game, they stayed in a hotel in the west end of London where traffic noise kept a lot of the players awake most of the night. Certainly some of the players did not do themselves justice on the day, whilst a 19-10 scrum deficit also took its toll.
The only score of the first half was a penalty goal for Widnes after 34 minutes. Widnes scored their first try after 50 minutes when Briers beat four men to score from what looked an impossible position. Three minutes later, Hurstfield broke out of a weak tackle and linked with Hughes, who sent Myler over under the posts. Randall’s conversion made it 10-0 with 27 minutes to go, and it looked all over.
But with 20 minutes to go, from a rare scrum win near half way, Arthur Bunting released Alan Burwell, who raced between two defenders and rounded Randall for a brilliant try. Rovers were back in the game at 10-5 and Graham Paul then made two tremendous breaks. But the Chemics defence was up to the task and the Robins had no more chances. In the final moments, Kemel sold an outrageous dummy to send in the outstanding prop Collier for a deserved try to go with his Lance Todd man-of-the-match trophy.
Young Brian Mennell, who stood in for Taylor, was playing only his fourth senior game, but he had not been disgraced at all playing opposite to Collier, who had enjoyed the best season of his career. There was conjecture about what might have happened if Taylor had been able to play. He was a destructive runner but with the reputation of flitting in and out of games. Ten minutes of his brilliance might have broken the Widnes defence; equally, Widnes might have tackled him out of the game. No one will ever know, and the Robins were second best on the day.
The Rovers team that day was – Cyril Kellett; Graham Paul, Terry Major, David Elliott, Mike Blackmore; Alan Burwell, Arthur Bunting; Brian Tyson, Peter Flanagan, Brian Mennell, Eric Palmer, Len Clark, Harry Poole (capt).
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