At 35 years old, Hull FC captain Gareth Ellis has done it all in Rugby League. He’s played in a World Cup, won the Super League Grand Final and made the International Team of the Year back in 2007. But one trophy has eluded the impressive second-row – the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
However, the former Leeds Rhinos man told us he’s confident that his wait to win the historic competition will end with victory over Warrington at Wembley on Saturday.
Ladbrokes News caught up with Gareth at the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final press conference at Doncaster Racecourse, and the former Great Britain Lions regular is tipping his side to be first past the post in a dramatic clash with the Wire.
Ladbrokes News: Hull head into the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final on great form, having beaten Catalans and Widnes to nil in the last two games. How impressed have you been with those performances?
Gareth Ellis: I’ve been very pleased with those two displays. You only have to go back a couple of weeks to the loss we suffered at home to Castleford, but we’ve produced a great reaction and proved that we can bounce back from defeat quickly.
Widnes and Catalans are good sides – so to manage nillings against both of them is a real achievement. And on a personal note, it’s nice to be playing my part in that team as well.
LN: Hull had an up-and-down campaign last year. But you’re top of Super League now and in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final. Why do you think there’s been such a big improvement this year?
GE: There have been a lot of reasons, really. Our recruitment has been excellent, and everyone in this squad has realised we have the quality to produce something special.
We’ve not been as confident of ourselves in years gone by. On quite a few occasions, we’ve started the season with a lot of promise but not delivered when it really mattered.
We were beaten 46-6 by Widnes back in March, and I think that loss actually spurred us on to discover our potential and what we could achieve this season. From then on, it’s been a good year so far, but we need to make it count at Wembley.
LN: You’ve had Wembley heartache before, with two defeats in the final of this competition. Does that spur you on even more to win the trophy this time around?
GE: Without a doubt. It’s a very sad and lonely place when you lose a final. You put in so much work to make it to that stage, and if you’re beaten then there’s a feeling of ‘I almost wish we hadn’t got there’! But there’s still a lot of experience to take from that situation.
Right now there’s only Kirk Yeaman in our side who has lifted this trophy as a Hull player, so we’re looking to add some more names to that list!
LN: So are you going into the final with a lot of belief this time around?
GE: Definitely. When we lost the 2013 final [to Wigan Warriors], we weren’t as good a side as we are this year.
We’re stronger in every sense – physically, mentally and in terms of the personnel in the squad. As well as that, Hull have found a way to win games, no matter who we’re up against, and what style our opponents are playing. [Head Coach] Lee Radford deserves huge credit for that.
LN: Talking of the squad, one thing which is always evident is the togetherness and team spirit within the Hull camp. How big a factor has that been as well?
GE: That camaraderie and willingness to work for one another is a huge part of it. We cover one another’s mistakes. If anyone makes a slip-up, there’s another player there to try and make up for it. There’s no blame when there’s an error, and that’s great.
LN: Warrington are a tough side, like yourselves. Do you think we’ll see another engrossing physical battle as in Hull’s semi-final victory over Wigan?
GE: Yes I do, but they’ve got talent as well as being a big, physical team. You look at forwards like Chris Hill and Daryl Clark, and they’re strong guys, but also very clever players.
Overall, they’re a pack we need to really get on top of, and get the ball to the likes of Marc Sneyd, so he can cause them trouble.
Most importantly though, we need to play the way we have done all year and not go into our shell just because it’s a final.
LN: So will you try to approach this with the attitude you would towards any other match?
GE: I will do as much as is possible. I don’t think you can do so 100 per cent, but once you’re out there, you’re playing. We need to play the game and not the occasion.
LN: You’ve played in some huge games in your career, including at Wembley. Is this the pinnacle for you? And do you still get that buzz ahead of a day like Saturday?
GE: I certainly do. I grew up watching the Challenge Cup as a kid and love the competition. So far it’s the one trophy that’s eluded me in my career, but I’m hoping to tick that box this time around.
Warrington will be a tough test, but I’m confident we can lift the trophy.
Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing