Robbie Hunter-Paul autobiography: The best of days and the worst of days (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Robbie Hunter-Paul autobiography: The best of days and the worst of days
10:20am Thursday 23rd August 2012 in Bulls
Robbie Hunter-Paul relives some of the most amazing experiences of his life in his new book ‘Robbie: Rugby Warrior – The Autobiography’. In this third extract he recalls the agony and the ecstasy of the 1996 Challenge Cup final.
Get it down, just get the thing down. Brain’s whirring.
I’m at full tilt. It’s for the hat-trick, I know that.
Ball safely tucked under one arm. No one-handed trickery. I’d learned that to my cost at London Broncos a few months earlier. Far too fancy and I’d got my backside slapped. The ball slipped out as I went to plant it over the line. Bloody daft. We lost that game.
Now, it’s two hands or dive over the line. I’m nearly there. Rather than slide and get grass burns, I roll. It’s as I come up, fist pumping, that it hits me with a blinding force. A wall of 30,000 Bradford Bulls fans losing their minds, pouring all their love at me.
Positive energy raining down from the terraces and I drink it in. Joy unconfined and, for that one fleeting, glorious moment, I knew just how it felt. To be a rock star.
Once savoured, never forgotten. People say it’s about the money. If so, I would have gone and played rugby union for the rest of my career. This was me doing what I loved, playing rugby league on the greatest of stages, doing what makes me happy, playing a sport I truly love, providing me with food for my soul.
That is what makes you really wealthy – in spirit. Mind you, there was the small matter of £10,000 as the first player to score a hat-trick of tries in a Wembley Challenge Cup final and the Bradford boys were in for their slice of that cheque, as Graeme Bradley , a bruising and brooding presence in our team, never stopped reminding me.
The moment passed with the realisation that we were back in a classic final, two points adrift of St Helens at 34-32, with nine minutes left on the clock.
Unbelievably, we had been leading 26-12 just 14 minutes earlier. Our tormentor, Bobbie Goulding, had one last trick though. A reverse pass and Apollo Perelini dived over for the clinching try. Euphoria turned to desolation.
Winner of the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match, scorer of the first hat-trick at Wembley, youngest captain of Challenge Cup finalists at 20 years and 84 days, and I would still swap those records and accolades for a winner’s medal.
To this day, I carry a bag of bricks on my back from a final that made my name as a player; the best of days and worst of days. The real magic of the Challenge Cup is winning it. I didn’t discover that until much later.
The disappointment of losing my first final still lingers. The Lance Todd Trophy means so much to me but, as a whippersnapper less than two years in England, I didn’t know what to think in the aftermath. The whole team felt destroyed. I was an emotional wreck. To be so close to tasting success and watching Saints lift that wonderful old trophy, the hat-trick achievement felt soured.
Matt Calland was a wild man but as I was sat on the bus leaving Wembley so solemn and desolate, he grabbed me around the neck and said: “Snap out of it, you had one of the greatest games you’ll ever play in your life and you did it at the right moment. Get your head around that.”
To have one of your peers tell you that certainly helped. I was so driven that I wanted our labours to bear fruit that day, not appreciating then that this was the beginning of the journey for the Bulls. It was also the start of something special for me.
Coming in as such heavy underdogs, the nature of the game was celebrated by our growing army of fans on an open top bus tour through Bradford. The club had momentum and Peter Deakin, the Bulls’ marketing guru, positioned everything perfectly. It was not so much that we lost that day but that we were growing. Peter rolled with the positives. He was spot on, too.
The dominance that Bradford went on to exert in the new Super League era sprang from us losing the 1996 Challenge Cup final.
But those three tries were also a springboard for me. Opportunities came thick and fast, varied and exotic. There were times during my career when the tag of first Wembley hat-trick scorer would frustrate the life out of me. Was that all I was good for? But, as you get older, you appreciate that you do not have too many games like that, not on the big stage.