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A Challenge Cup dream realised

CARNEGIE CHALLENGE CUP FINAL
Venue: Wembley Date: Saturday, 29 August Kick-off: 1430 BST Coverage: Live on BBC One and online; full commentary on BBC Radio Leeds 774 AM & online; BBC Radio 5 live sports extra.

Dave Woods
By Dave Woods

It was May 1974 when I went to a Challenge Cup final at Wembley for the first time.

As rugby league nuts, me and my dad had escaped from a family holiday in Weston-Super-Mare to jump on a train to London.

I was seven years old and we had gone as neutrals, but I have a vivid memory of rattling along on an underground train when a bloke from Warrington asked me who I was supporting.

Ray French
Ray French is a legend, and that's not a term I use lightly

"Not bothered," I told him, so he gave me a primrose-and-blue rosette and 50p, a fortune back then, and I became a Warrington fan for the day.

I don't remember much about the match, but can clearly recall the giddy, breathless feeling of walking up to the back of the terraces and just being overcome by the sheer size and noise of the stadium.

And that was it: Challenge Cup day has been the most important date in the calendar ever since.

Even as a kid I would have preferred it if you'd cancelled Christmas than called off the annual day out with my dad to the exotic, far-off rugby league ground with its great big family of fans from every different club; the walk up Wembley Way; the pre-match traditions and songs; the agony and ecstasy that washed around the grand old ground when the hooter sounded.

I've been to every final since - including the replay in 1982. That's 35 Challenge Cup finals in all.

There are some favourites: watching a good mate, John Kear, win it against the odds in 1998 and 2005; and the classic final of 1985 with the duel in the sun between Brett Kenny and Peter Sterling, Henderson Gill's 80-yard sprint down the line and John Ferguson's sublime sidestep in mid-air.

Or how about the all-Humberside (or should that be East Yorkshire?) affair in 1980? Then there is St Helens' great comeback in 1996; Bradford's tenacious, gutsy defending to beat Leeds at Cardiff in 2003; Kris Radlinski beating Saints in his carpet slippers in Edinburgh in 2002... I could go on.

But the occasion is the thing, however good or indifferent the game.

John Kear
John Kear celebrates Hull's victory over Leeds in 2005

This year, on a personal and selfish note, it will be extra special. Forgive the indulgence, but this year that little lad's dream back in 1974 comes true. I get to commentate on the Wembley final for BBC Television.

I've had a lucky career so far, covering the last three football World Cups and a European Championship, going to Australia on several occasions for Tri-Nations and World Cups in rugby league and travelling the globe to report and commentate on one sport or the other.

But this is the only ambition I've ever had. From growing up watching and listening to Eddie Waring and Ray French, all I ever wanted to do was one day do what they did, with the Challenge Cup final being the ultimate dream.

I never met Eddie, but Ray is a very good friend. He's decided to ease up on his commitments, which in turn has given me the chance to do this year's final. But he will remain the iconic voice of rugby league for many years to come.

Ray is a legend, and that's not a term I use lightly. His knowledge of the game is immense, his passion for it is second to none. Millions have had the very great pleasure of his warm personality captivating them on countless Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Even luckier are those that know him. He's the kind of bloke you'd vote as person you'd most like to get stuck in a lift with. He never fails to entertain, he always has a cracking tale to tell and I've learnt a great deal from him.

So to sit in his seat is a daunting prospect. Ray, you are irreplaceable and the game owes you an enormous debt for what you've done behind the mic and behind the scenes for so many years.

Dave Woods
Dave Woods will be commentating on his first Cup final for BBC Television

On the field, it would take a pundit of immense courage to claim to know how this year's final between Huddersfield and Warrington will play out. It's wide open and every outcome is possible.

There is no secret to the fact that Warrington have been inconsistent this season, the league table is evidence of that. Yet when Tony Smith's side bring their 'A' game to an occasion they can overrun anyone.

But Warrington will have to be good, because Huddersfield are also an exceptional side.

The Giants are ace defenders and they have the stingiest defence in Super League, just one of the areas in which new coach Nathan Brown's influence has been obvious.

So with the strength of Adrian Morley and Garreth Carvell plus the brains of Michael Monaghan and the flair of Lee Briers up against the force of Eorl Crabtree, Brett Hodgson and his exciting runs from full-back and the confidence of Luke Robinson, there are many reasons to be very excited ahead of what could be a very memorable final.



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see also
Huddersfield 16-25 Warrington
29 Aug 09 |  Rugby League
St Helens 14-24 Huddersfield
09 Aug 09 |  Rugby League
Wigan 26-39 Warrington
08 Aug 09 |  Rugby League


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