THERE WASN’T really any doubt, but Gareth Ellis – who will retire at the end of the season – is now certain to be remembered as one of the best players of his generation.
A Castleford Lock Lane junior, he earned Great Britain honours as a Wakefield Trinity player, at a time when they were one of the least fashionable clubs in the game.
He moved to Leeds Rhinos and won a World Club title on his debut, before playing a key role in back-to-back Grand Final triumphs.
Ellis then put his reputation on the line by challenging himself in Australia’s NRL. He spent four seasons at Wests Tigers and was their player of the year three times.
And now back in Super League he has helped transform Hull into one of the powerhouses of the European game.
Ellis’ place in the modern history of the sport was assured when he lifted the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup for the second successive year following an 18-14 win over Wigan Warriors at Wembley.
Ellis didn’t play the full-80, but put in a captain’s knock and was an important figure for the East Yorkshire side through a tense final 10 minutes.
He deserved to lift the trophy, but Marc Sneyd – a beaten finalist for Castleford Tigers against Leeds in 2014 when he was taken substituted in the first half – was the actual difference between the sides.
The six tries were shared, but Sneyd landed three conversions to George Williams’ one and his tactical kicking was first class.
The scrum-half became the first player to win the Lance Todd Trophy, as cup final man of the match, outright in successive season.
St Helens’ Paul Wellens collected the award in 2007 and 2008, but shared it with Leon Pryce on the first occasion. Sneyd received 23 votes from members of the Rugby League Writers and Broadcasters Association.
The only other player to feature was winger Mahe Fonua, with nine. He was outstanding, scoring a brace of tries and having a third ruled out by video referee James Child due to an obstruction in the build-up.
That was at the start of the final quarter when Hull led 18-10. Moments later Child was involved in the game’s major controversy when he backed up referee Phil Bentham’s initial ruling of ‘no try’ after Tony Clubb forced his way over Hull’s line.
It appeared the ball had been pulled out, but Child reckoned it was a knock-on.
With 46 seconds left Joe Burgess – who had earlier cut the gap to four points – raced over, but Bentham spotted that Williams’ pass to Liam Farrell earlier in the move had been forward.
It was exciting stuff and made up for what Hull boss Lee Radford described as the “disaster” of 2013, when his team were beaten by Wigan in one of the worst finals.
Both coaches felt the decision against Clubb was harsh, but – to his credit – Wigan’s Shaun Wane refused to use it as an excuse.
He said: “That’s not the reason why we lost. The best team won.”
Wigan went ahead after just four minutes through a John Bateman try which Williams converted. But Fetuli Talanoa and Fonua both crossed off kicks by Sneyd, before Oliver Gildart made it 12-10 at the break.
Fonua’s second converted try, following Sneyd’s 40-20, edged Hull two scores clear, but Burgess’ touchdown set up a grandstand finale.
It was the best of 10 finals staged at the new Wembley, but played in front of the lowest crowd of just 68,525.
Hull FC: Shaul, Fonua, Griffin, Tuimavave, Talanoa, Kelly, Sneyd, Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Manu, Minichiello, Ellis. Subs: Connor, Bowden, Washbrook, Green.
Wigan Warriors: S Tomkins, Marshall, Gelling, Gildart, Burgess, Williams, Leuluai, Nuuausala, McIlorum, Clubb, Farrell, Bateman, O’Loughlin. Subs: Isa, Sutton, Tautai, Powell.
Referee: Phi Bentham (Warrington).