This week in 1998, the Black & Whites made their Super League debut when they took on Sheffield Eagles at the Don Valley Stadium - Club Historian Bill Dalton recalls the club’s opening clash of the new era.
The coming week marks the 22nd anniversary of the club’s debut in Super League, albeit this would be the second year of having ‘Sharks’ as the suffix.
The 1997 season had been very near an all-conquering campaign for the team, despite all the off-field shenanigans going on, which at one time threatened the very existence of the club. The team had dropped only three points in the regular 1997 season and finished up as Division One champions, thus gaining promotion along with Huddersfield Giants.
Tevita Vaikona had registered 40 tries and a record six hat-tricks during the season, but the then directors saw fit to sell him to Bradford Bulls prior to Hull’s entry into Super League.
The Challenge Cup was played out as an early season competition in those formative years of summer Rugby League and Hull had reached the Quarter-Final, only to succumb to Salford, who then lost to Sheffield in the semi-final.
Thus, on the occasion of their debut in Super League, Hull had to meet a Challenge Cup Final qualifier at their Don Valley Stadium home, although that could hardly have engendered thoughts of Wembley being on the Eagles minds – it was still four weeks away!
Hull put all the off-field controversy out of their minds as they set about the Eagles. It was not a faultless performance by any means, but their task wasn’t helped by having to play a man short for 10 minutes in each half as first Gary Lester went in the bin on 33 minutes for holding down and he warmed the seat up for Glen Tomlinson (66 mins) who went for obstruction.
The Airlie Birds took the lead after only two minutes when Tomlinson followed up his own kick to touch down under the post. The Eagles levelled only five minutes later when Darren Turner scooted in from a play-the-ball. However, the enterprising Tomlinson put Steve Prescott through on the 18-minute mark, and four minutes elapsed before Graham Hallas kicked on a stray pass to touch down, increasing Hull’s lead to 16-6.
Lester’s sin-binning allowed Sheffield to reduce the deficit with the penalty from Aston followed by a try from Sovatabua, The conversion kick sent the teams in at the break with Hull holding on to a 16-14 lead.
Only three minutes after the break saw a super effort from Alan Hunte, converted by Hallas, but future Hull star Matt Crowther pulled the Eagles back into contention. The conversion and a penalty both kicked by Aston saw the teams level at 22-22.
Steve Prescott restored Hull’s fortunes when he was sent in by Hallas who snapped up a rebound from a Tomlinson kick. Further penalty kicks were exchanged between Aston and Hallas in a tense final quarter before David Stephenson came off the bench to crash through two minutes from time to finally put the game to bed.
Hull head coach Peter Walsh was full of praise for his team’s performance, and claimed that “we proved that we are not going to be the whipping boys of Super League” while Sheffield’s John Kear claimed “Our Players had their heads in the clouds and Hull spanked us big style. All credit to them, because they were the better team”.
Sheffield Eagles: Waisale Sovatabua, Nick Pinkney, Whetu Teawa, Matt Crowther, Bright Sodje, Dave Watson, Mark Aston, Paul Broadbent, Darren Turner, Dale Laughton, Michael Jackson, Darren Shaw, Martin Wood.
Interchange: Rod Doyle, Johnny Lawless, Paul Carr, Steve Molloy.
Hull FC: Steve Prescott, Fili Seru, Alan Hunte, Graeme Hallas, Mark Johnson, Gary Lester, Glen Tomlinson, Hitro Okesene, Brad Hepi, Andy Ireland, Simon Booth, Steve Craven, Logan Campbell.
Interchange: David Stephenson, Matt Shultz, Richard Wilson, Jim Leatham.