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Ladbrokes Challenge Cup

Wigan Warriors 12 Hull FC 16, Airlie Birds return to Wembley with resilient semi-final performance

Hull FC booked their place at the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, with an enthralling victory against 19-time cup winners Wigan Warriors at the Keepmoat Stadium.

The Airlie Birds came from a six point deficit in the second half to secure a richly deserved win which was born of sheer resilient defending, along with some quality finishing just when it was needed.

In a classic semi-final both teams showed great tenacity, rather than serving up the Champagne rugby league which is mostly associated with these two sides, this time it was genuine Real-Ale rugby league, with the win engineered with a bit of a whisky chaser from the Black & Whites at the right time.

Hull coach Lee Radford brought Tongan international Carlos Tuimavave straight back into the starting line-up in place of the unfortunate Jordan Abdull, who dropped out of the 17 man squad after impressive performances against Hull KR and Salford Red Devils.

Hull top try scorer Jamie Shaul also came back into the side in place of Curtis Naughton who deputised at fullback in the game at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Shaun Wane brought Taulima Tautai back into his 17 after he sat out the defeat to St. Helens due to suspension, replacing the newly suspended Frank-Paul Nuuausala for the semi-final at the Keepmoat Stadium.

The first chance came the way of the Black & Whites after a great break in midfield by Fetuli Talanoa, but stiff Wigan defence managed to keep them out.

A first penalty of the game gave the Warriors territory and possession, then the unfortunate Shaul was pushed behind his goal line to concede a goal line drop out, however that chance was wasted as the kick from Matty Smith near the line went dead in goal.

A penalty for the Airlie Birds presented another attacking chance, from that a short grubber by Shaul was collected by John Bateman but the Wigan man was held behind the line to force a goal line drop out but the chance was lost with a forward pass from Tuimavave.

A harsh penalty for the Warriors given away by the hard dealt Liam Watts gave the Warriors another chance from which George Williams was able to cross and give the Warriors the lead, Smith was on target with the conversion after 17 minutes.

Another handling mistake, this time by Ryan Sutton, gave the Black & Whites more territory and possession, a grubber from Sneyd was cleared up by Williams, but then Dan Sarginson handed them the ball back, which was soon followed by a penalty.

A stupid penalty from Ben Flower hitting Chris Green round the head as he was going down in O’Loughlin’s tackle presented an easy two point invitation that Sneyd duly obliged with after 25 minutes for Hull’s first points.

Sneyd forced another chance within two minutes with a delicate chip and chase which Sam Tomkins had to knock dead to force another goal line drop out, from that chance Gareth Ellis was put through but video referee Robert Hicks harshly ruled out the try despite Ellis appearing to get the ball on the line.

Hull then earned back-to-back penalties which saw them increase their territorial advantage, however another harsh call by referee Ben Thaler gave Wigan more possession after Frank Pritchard was adjudged to have knocked on despite the ball clearly going backwards, a penalty for the team in Cherry and White but a forward pass to Lewis Tierney saw a try for the winger ruled out.

The Airlie Birds were being frustrated by the stern Warriors defence, but they kept coming and forced a scrum close to the Wigan line tackling a Wigan player into touch, and another goal line drop out was forced subsequently when Tierney knocked another grubber kick dead but Jordan Thompson knocked on at the first tackle.

The first points of the second half went to the Warriors with a penalty from Smith after a soft penalty was given against the unlucky Watts again.

A penalty to the Airlie Birds cranked up the pressure on the Warriors and eventually their defence cracked as magical hands from Pritchard gave Sika Manu and then Mahe Fonua to throw the ball wide to put Steve Michaels in at the corner, Sneyd brought the scores level with a touchline conversion, just minutes after receiving treatment on the pitch, after 48 minutes.

A frantic passage of play brought a knock-on by Tomkins which gave Hull another scrum near the Wigan line, and from a Sneyd kick, Manfredi lost the ball and Fetuli Talanoa pounced for a try that was awarded by video referee Hicks, Sneyd was on target with the conversion again after 52 minutes.

A penalty for the Warriors gave them a chance at breaking the stranglehold Hull had developed, however the sting was taken out of the situation for a time after a big injury break as Mahe Fonua received treatment for a head injury caused by an accidental collision before being stretchered off.

After the break a cross-field run by Tomkins was followed by a delicate kick from O’Loughlin but the Wigan captain put too much behind it, the Airlie Birds then moved far too easily to the other end and a 5th tackle penalty was gleefully accepted by Sneyd to take his team two scores clear with 20 minutes remaining.

The Warriors were afforded another controversial chance as Kirk Yeaman was very harshly adjudged to have knocked on despite the ball going clearly backwards, another harsh penalty followed, but very organised defending from the Black & Whites held them comfortably at bay.

Wigan were given a gift when pressurising defence forced an error from Tuimavave to give them a repeat set on the Hull line, then another penalty increased the pressure but more excellent defending kept them out at a time when they really needed a try.

Eventually the defence was cracked as a break from Oliver Gildart set up the position for Willie Isa to cross from a pass by Williams with less than ten minutes left, Smith was wide with the conversion to leave it as a four point ball-game.

Video referee Hicks was called on again when Williams lost the ball in midfield, Mark Minichiello raced away under the posts but the Italian international knocked-on as he tried to grab the loose ball.

Williams forced another drop out as Michaels had to run his kick dead, but another handling mistake handed Hull possession as time edged closer to the end of this titanic tussle.

Wigan caused another goal line drop out as Shaul took Gildarts kick over his own line and, as Wigan hurtled forward with the last play a knock-on was the unfortunate ending to an outstanding semi-final, and take the Black & Whites to their first Wembley final since they lost to Wigan in 2013.

Penalties: Wigan 10 Hull FC 7

Goal Line Drop Outs: Wigan 3 Hull FC 3

Man of the Match: Marc Sneyd

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