To launch our proud new sponsorship of the Rugby League Challenge Cup the Ladbrokes News team caught up with four-time semi-finalist and Bradford Bulls’ winning coach Brian Noble to hear his favourite memories of the competition.
Here, ‘Nobby’ takes a trip down memory lane and lets us know who he thinks will lift the trophy in 2015.
Ladbrokes News: Can you sum up the Challenge Cup in just five words?
Brian Noble: The ultimate community challenge cup.
LN: What is your earliest memory of the Challenge Cup?
BN: I think like most people it’s that horrible missed goal in front of the watersplash in the 1960s when Don Fox missed a kick from right under the sticks.
That’s the enduring picture that we all grew up with. But then, going into the 1970s and 1980s it’s the dominance of Wigan and the likes of the Ellery Hanley and Joe Lydon and all those brilliant players that everyone aspires to be like.
LN: Having won the trophy as a coach with Bradford Bulls what’s your favourite memory of the Challenge Cup?
BN: Yeah, it has to be the Millennium Stadium in 2002 when we beat Leeds in the final which was an unbelievably exciting match in front of a full stadium.
I also remember when Ellery Hanley scored a try for Bradford Northern in a semi final in 1983 when we lost, heartbreakingly, to a Featherstone team that were fired up. Hanley scored the try of the tournament and my claim to fame is passing the ball that sent him on his way.
One of the better finals I watched when I was playing was Hull v Wigan when Peter Sterling matched his wits against Brett Kenney but the best player on the park by a million miles that day was Steve Naughton who I was a fan of. He was an England international who was on the losing side that day but what a player.
LN: Having won the cup as a coach what advice would you give to coaches going into this year’s competition?
BN: I think it’s massively important for all the teams in the Super League and Championship and any team really. It’s one of those iconic trophies that we all aspire to win but for the Super League clubs if you can get yourself a run of form you’re in pole position.
Not everyone can win the Super League so it’s a really big opportunity to have an unbelievable experience for both the fans and the club.
They need to get in form and actually focus on this competition. Leeds showed last year that focus and belief will you get there in the end.
LN: Who is the best player you’ve played against?
That is an unbelievable question. I’ve been very fortunate to coach so many great players and play with and against some unbelievable opponents. It’s the same with coaching where I can go through a whole spectrum of 20 years and people like Andrew Jones stand out.
I’d stick with my era though and opt for Ellery Hanley. I signed the same day as him for Bradford Northern as a 16-year-old and he went on to carve out a career as one of the greats of the game so it’s hard to go against him.
But who can forget the likes of Wally Lewis, Brett Kenny, Peter Sterling, Mal Meninga, Billy Slater etc. I always liked the great Wigan teams and they had Ellery and Dean Bell and a host of forerunners for the full-time era. There you had a list of the 1980s that reads like a who’s-who of the rugby world.
LN: Who is the best player you have coached?
BN: Again, I’m extremely lucky but if I’m talking about Bradford it would have to be the Paul brothers, Henry and Robbie.
Some of the tries Robbie scored at Wembley were freakishly good even in a beaten team in the 1999 final against St Helens.
Lesley Vainikolo and Tevita Vaikona were wingers but they were built like props. They were unbelievably entertaining and quick.
If I had to pick a domestic player though James Laws was a consummate hooker and pro who’s now coaching at Bradford of course.
When I went to Wigan you had people like Trent Barrett, what a player! He was an Australian and New South Wales international and the sickening thing about him was he was a good bloke too so there was nothing you could hate about him.
Then if you go to Celtic Crusaders you had Clinton Schifcofske, another Origins player who came out of retirement and was unbelievable.
I’ve named names there but people could mention others and I’d probably say “yeah, you’re right.”
But the overriding principal there is that they were all good blokes and that’s massively important. Talent is OK but if you play your part in the club and community they are your best types of players.
LN: If we gave you a £100 free bet on this year’s Challenge Cup who would you back to win it?
BN: Warrington – I think they made some great improvements over the summer, they’ve got a great DNA with the competition over the last five or six years and they know how to focus on the game. After the disappointment of last year I think they’ll be hungry for success.
LN: Which amateur clubs should we look out for to have a good cup run this year?
BN: Any team that comes from Wigan will be strong. Looking at the league ladders in the amateur competitions Wigan have so much strength and their clubs will be a force.
But you can’t discount the Hull area and clubs like in my home town of Bradford where they have Dudley Hill who may not be as strong as they used to be but will always be up for it. The Rhubarb triangle teams will also be the ones to look out for.
What a dream for the players at those sorts of clubs too, they could end up playing against some of the best players in the world.
LN: Which players, past or present, would you describe as ‘Game Changers’ – people who could turn a tie on its head seemingly on their own?
BN: This will be a surprise but the best player I played with at stand-off – and bear in mind I’m using the likes of Wally Lewis and Andrew Jones for comparisons – was Tony Mylor whose career was blighted by injury. He played in the Challenge Cup final for Widnes on a couple of occasions and was a consummate professional. He was tough as teak, he could pass the ball and he could make a break to turn a game with his skill and his prowess.
LN: Other than your own – Nobby – what is the best nickname you’ve heard in Rugby League?
BN: It’s difficult to look past Chariots (Martin Offiah) really. I’ve yet to find out why Jonathan Davies is called Jiffy though, so there might be a story there.
Shaun Edwards is called Gizmo, but that’s just because he looks like him.
Chariots is the best though. He scored five tries past me once and I kept thinking “how do you stop him?”
LN: If you could have been a professional in any other sport what would you have chosen?
BN: I would have played cricket. As a Yorkshire man I’d have loved to have done what Freddie Fllintoff did and captained Yorkshire and England and then fall off a pedalo in the West Indies. Cricketers never seem to have bad weather to deal with either, it’s always really warm.
I would love to coach in the NFL. I watch it at the weekends and I think to myself what an intricate game. It’s a science as much as it is a sport and an athletic pastime.
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