Aquis Titans appearance record-holder Mark Minichiello has described Hull’s extraordinary Wembley victory in the Challenge Cup, and the scenes that have followed, as the highlight of his career.
The 34-year-old and fellow former Titan Steve Michaels played major roles in Hull’s come from behind 12-10 victory in the Cup final against Warrington – the club’s fourth crown in the century-old competition’s history but their first at Wembley.
They were greeted by an estimated 23,000 fans when they returned to the east Yorkshire seaside town as the team did a parade by bus through the streets to the town centre to be welcomed by the mayor.
As the Super League competition has converted to a top eight round-robin series which ends in a grand final at Old Trafford in mid-October, Hull sit at the top of the ladder and thus are chasing the rarely achieved ‘Triple Crown’ of the Challenge Cup, championship and grand final trophies.
“For 15 years I have been waiting for this moment, and it has finally come true,” said ‘Mini’ after the 12-10 victory in the knock-out competition that holds probably a greater tradition that the grand final.
He holds the Titans’ record of 173 NRL games and played 85 for the Rabbitohs after his debut with the Roosters. He is now on the verge of passing the 300-game mark and has re-signed for a third season with Hull.
“And it couldn’t have happened with a better bunch of blokes, we’re a very tight group and I love every one of them.
“It’s a special moment; Wembley is an iconic stadium and it’s famous all around the world. To get the chance to play here is the highlight of my career and to go on and win it … it’s hard to put into words.”
While his more celebrated brother Anthony has won a Golden Boot, played 19 Tests and won two grand finals with the Roosters, younger brother Mark had only played finals in 2009-10 with the Titans. Now he has a piece of silverware to add to the family chest.
“Anthony never played at Wembley; he always wanted to but now I’m here and I know he is very proud of me,” Mark said.
“You just had to dig deep and get through it. It was one of the toughest games I’ve played in and I was out on my feet. It needed a special group of guys to get the job done.”
Michaels was impressive on the right wing and made a couple of crucial line breaks. He also in his second season with Hull after finishing his career here with Burleigh Bears and has been a revelation after a slow start in 2015.
Hull were behind 10-0 with 20 minutes remaining and were outplayed in the first half by a Warrington side featuring Australians Kurt Gidley, Ashton Sims and Chris Sandow, but scored two converted tries to finish strongly.
Tough hooker Danny Houghton pulled of a try-saving tackle on Warrington forward Chris Currie in the final five minutes that will go down in Wembley folklore.
After the town of Hull, which is split geographically in two between Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers fans on each side of the Humber River, put on a massive public turnout for the team, that also included Frank Pritchard, on return. There will be little time to celebrate though; they must back up against St Helens on Friday night before fixtures against Wigan, Wakefield and Warrington before their Super League fate will be known.