On the 31th anniversary of Hull FC’s 1991 Premiership Final victory over Widnes, Club Historian Bill Dalton looks back at the build-up to the victory, and the memorable clash at Old Trafford.
In stark contrast to the poor start made in 1989-90, the first seven league matches of Hull’s Premiership winning season were all won, and a fairly consistent season ensued from that point.
The Boulevard once more became a fortress and only one league match was lost. An early exit from the Challenge Cup in a Preliminary Round at Sheffield was followed by 11 league fixtures (eight of them away) which reaped five wins, sufficient to attain 3rd place in the Championship and a first-round Premiership tie at home against St Helens.
Home form triumphed again and Hull earned an easy 28-12 victory, paving the way for a Boulevard semi-final encounter with Leeds. For 78 minutes, it looked all over that Leeds would win the Premiership Final place at Old Trafford. Their defensive performance belied their inconsistent season and were in front at half-time by 2-7.
A second penalty goal in the 67th minute from Paul Eastwood pulled it back to 4-7 but with time running out it looked as though Leeds would hang on.
Then, with less than two minutes on the clock, skipper Greg Mackey hoisted a high ‘bomb’ towards the Leeds full-back, John Gallagher, under the posts for substitute Gary Nolan to pluck the ball out of his grasp to touch down under the crossbar for Paul Eastwood to augment into a 10-7 victory. Some 9,645 attended on that Sunday evening and they talked about that great escape for years to come.
But the build up to the Premiership Final in 1991 was dominated by talk of how red-hot favourites Widnes would have too much firepower for the Airlie Birds.
The Chemics boasted an all-star team that included the likes of Martin Offiah, Jonathan Davies, Andy Currier, Darren Wright, Paul and David Hulme and Kurt Sorensen.
A massive army of Hull FC supporters descended on Old Trafford full of optimism and in very good voice in the blazing hot sunshine, having seen their team finish third in the league, despite the disruption of losing coach Brian Smith halfway through the season. Former Australian international, and Hull player, Noel ‘Crusher’ Cleal had taken over the reigns.
Having lost their league title crown to Wigan, the Premiership represented Widnes’ only chance of major silverware, but the fact that they had won it in each of the three previous years, including once against Hull, gave them the edge.
However there was one man who hadn’t read everybody else’s script; Greg Mackey. He was Hull’s captain and main ‘go to’ man. His half-back partnership with French international Patrick Entat was a revelation.
A record Premiership attendance of 42,043, paying record receipts of £384,300, witnessed underdogs Hull pull off a remarkable victory over Widnes who were bidding to win the Premiership Trophy.
The front row of Karl Harrison, Lee Jackson and Andy Dannatt laid the platform of forward supremacy, thus paving the way for half-backs, Mackey and Entat, to take control of the game. Mackey was in superb form to earn the Harry Sunderland Trophy as Man of the Match.
Widnes started slowly in the game, and Mackey and Hull took full advantage of that, with their big forwards making inroads into the Widnes defence it was only a matter of time before Doug Laughton’s side cracked.
They duly did in less than quarter of an hour, and full-back Richard Gay was the man to profit with the first try of the final, however Great Britain winger Paul Eastwood was just off target with the conversion attempt.
Before the half hour mark Hull had a two-score lead as Cumbrian back-rower Russ Walker barged his way over like a battering ram.
With Mackey controlling proceedings and laying a platform for props Karl Harrison and Andy Dannatt, the Airlie Birds were in charge for the whole of the first-half.
Widnes’ much vaunted attack, with arguably the fastest back five in the league, was being kept firmly under wraps by Hull’s cast iron defence, while the flame-haired little general was causing damage.
The Airlie Birds were applauded from the field at half-time, having kept arguably the most potent attack in the league scoreless for the full 40 minutes.
As expected, the Chemics threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the Hull line in the second half. However the Airlie Birds were in their best miserly mood and were not going to be broken down easily.
The early score in the second half that Widnes craved didn’t appear, and the longer they stayed clearly in front, the more confident Noel Cleal’s side became.
But suddenly the match was put back in the melting pot around the hour mark as Hull’s valiant defence was finally breached, and the jet-heeled Offiah raced in at the corner to make it a four-point game.
With nerves jangling for the Old Faithful and finger nails bitten down, Widnes launched a series of attacks, but still Mackey continued to influence his side, determined not to let the glory within Hull’s grasp slip away.
One last throw of the dice saw Gary Nolan introduced to the fray, his try the previous week against Leeds had brought Hull to the final. Could he have a similar effect now?
With the finishing line in sight, the big Hull-born centre crashed his way through desperate Widnes defence.
Widnes went to the well again, but they didn’t have a Danny Houghton type hero. Nolan was able to work his arm free and plonk the ball down despite heavy attention.
The only successful conversion of the game from Eastwood made it an unassailable lead for Hull, and the hoards of Old Faithful supporters were at last able to celebrate their epic trophy-winning victory.
A magnificent team-performance, orchestrated by the Harry Sunderland Man of the Match trophy winner, brought the first piece of major silverware to Yorkshire since Halifax lifted the Challenge Cup in 1987.