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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 August 2005, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Gone but not forgotten
By Julian Shea
BBC Sport in Cardiff

Hull captain Richard Swain raises the Challenge Cup trophy

As send-offs go, Hull's thrilling 25-24 win over Leeds was a spectacular way for the rugby league Challenge Cup final to say goodbye to Cardiff.

Next year the final return to its spiritual home, Wembley - so long as it has been rebuilt in time, of course.

Since 1999, Twickenham and Murrayfield have also hosted the final, but neither with the same level of success as the Millennium Stadium.

Bradford fan John Farnell has been coming to the final with a group of friends for the last 25 years, and is a big fan of Cardiff.

"This is definitely the best ground the final has been played at," Farnell says.

"The only problem is the lack of hotel rooms - some of my friends have had to stay as far away as Bristol.

"But Cardiff has its advantages - the stadium is right in the city centre, and everyone here knows when the game's going on, which isn't always the case in London."
To be honest, I think Cardiff wishes Wembley hadn't been rebuilt
PC Scott Edwards

Another local who will miss the annual invasion of 70,000 league fans is PC Scott Edwards, who was on street patrol on final day.

"As a rugby fan myself, I really like working this weekend and dealing with the fans," he said.

"It's a family event, much more so than football, where the fans only really think about their teams. Everyone's here to socialise and enjoy themselves.

"Cardiff has really opened its arms to these fans, and they enjoy every minute of being here. To be honest, I think Cardiff wishes Wembley hadn't been rebuilt."

In contrast to FA Cup final day, rival fans happily mix together at the Challenge Cup.

Kevin Sinfield (centre) spearheads a Leeds attack
Fans were treated to a thrilling final spectacle on Saturday

Some fans take things even further. Instead of just wearing colours, a group of Barrow fans turn up every year in fancy dress.

In previous years, they have been ninjas, Spiderman and Father Christmas.

This year, 50 of them wore bright blue romper suits and pink nappies - but, somehow, the thought of 50 neutrals dressed as babies at the FA Cup final is hard to imagine.

Yet the Rugby Football League's director of marketing, Simon Malcolm, says he cannot wait to return to Wembley.

"Our time in Cardiff has been fantastic," he said.

"It's been a great stadium to show off a great game, but when Wembley re-opens, we'll be one of the first finals to be played there. That's a huge PR opportunity.

"People have already been asking about buying tickets for it, and as our final isn't until the end of August, we have every belief that the stadium will be ready in time.

"Never say never about returning to Cardiff. We have other big games on the calendar, like the Grand Final, but the Cup final is the most prestigious game and its natural home is Wembley."

But Malcolm insists rugby league and Cardiff will not forget one another, adding: "There's a legacy of us having been there.

"Interest in Welsh rugby league has never been higher, and the Celtic Crusaders will be playing in National League Two next season. The Cup final's time in Cardiff has certainly been a two-way process."




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