Former Black & White forward Karl Harrison says there was never any doubt that Hull would be victorious in the 1991 Premiership Final, which saw FC defeat Widnes on this day 31 years ago.
On the anniversary of the day Hull claimed their first and only Premiership Final win at Old Trafford over a Chemics side jam-packed with superstars, the former Great Britain international recalled some of his best memories of the day in an exclusive interview with hullfc.com.
To read Club Historian Bill Dalton’s memories of the 1991 season and Premiership Final – click here
Hull ran out 14-4 winners over Widnes, with tries from Richard Gay, Gary Nolan, and Russ Walker downing the Cheshire side, who were searching for their fourth consecutive Premiership Final win.
“We were very confident going into that game. We’d had a great season up until that point,” Harrison said.
“We were a close knit bunch of blokes. We knew we was going there as underdogs but we had confidence in our ability.
“Widnes were the superstar team at that team with Martin Offiah, Johnathan Davies, Kurt Sorensen, but we had a massive pack, and we knew we had enough to knock them off their perch. We were rough and physical in the middle of the park with the likes of Jon Sharp, Andy Dannett, Russ Walker, Ian Marlow. They were all workhorses.”
On some of the individual playmakers within the Black & White squad, Harrison picked out the quality of influential hooker Lee Jackson, and club captain Greg Mackey.
“You can’t forget about Lee Jackson too. He was only young at the time but he was a special player – maybe not the brightest spark, but he was a bloody good player and he got us around the park.
“He had a big job to come in and take over from Shaun Patrick at hooker, but he made that dummy-half role is; he was the first of a breed of what the modern day hooker is like now, very much like James Roby is now. He made an incredible number of tackles and worked tirelessly from the ruck.”
He continued: “Greg Mackey was just inspirational in everything he did. He trained the house down in every single session. Bluey was a great Rugby League player and a great human being.
“He wasn’t the biggest, the best, the fittest, but he was just an inspiration to us all. I’ll always remember him fondly.”
Despite Hull’s success, the Airlie Birds faced a challenging time off the field in 1991, with head coach Brian Smith departing half-way through the campaign, but Harrison believes the foundations for success were already in place when Noel Cleal took charge.
“It was a great season, but we had a bit of upheaval in there too with Brian Smith leaving half-way through to go to St George, with Crusher (Noel Cleal) taking over.
“But it was a pretty easy job for him to come into – he had already retired and had been helping Smithy in a coaching capacity, and having so many really professional players in there, they all already knew the job in hand when he took over.
“Nobody liked playing us that season. We were a horrible team to play against as we never took a backwards step. We didn’t get bullied once all season by any team.
“Crusher didn’t have to change too much. Smithy had built a good solid squad; no superstars or real household names like Widnes, but we knew what we were about and everybody bought into both Smithy and Crusher. He was really smart, and he got us in the right direction. He had to be ruthless at times too, for example leaving Steve McNamara out of the final squad.”
Hull defeated Leeds in a dramatic semi-final at the Boulevard, thanks to a last minute try from Gary Nolan who collected a Greg Mackey bomb under the posts to dive over and send FC to Old Trafford. With his side’s place in the final secured, Harrison said he wasn’t nervous for the big game.
“I wasn’t a person who got nervous before big games, but plenty of the boys were. Myself and Lee Jackson had played in some big games before such as test matches, so we manage to calm the boys down a bit .
“It was a red hot day. There was a game pre-match between Halifax and Salford, and it was a humdinger of a match so that got us pumped up. We went out onto the pitch after that match and the Stretford End was already packed out with Black & White fans.”
On the match itself, he recalled: “We knew in ourselves that we wouldn’t get beat, especially after a big start in the game. We got the first try through Richard Gay and that put us in real control.
“It got close, particularly in the second-half, but we were in charge all the way through. We limited Widnes’ big men in terms of the metres they made.
“We had high completion and made the most of Greg Mackey and Patrick Entat’s kicking game. Down their end of the field, we unleashed hell and battered them at times, it really was a brutal game.
“It’s strange because those big games seem to go by so quickly. I know I enjoyed it because I played well, but the main thing I remember is the hooter going at full-time because I knew that we’d picked up the rewards that we had worked so hard for that season.
“The fans were unbelievable that day, as they were all season. It was a great achievement, and it was as much for them as it was for us.”
He added: “The most disappointing thing was that our board didn’t actually expect us to win, so there was nothing organised for after the game, so we all went back to my local pub in Drighlington on the way back.
“We stopped at the off-licence on the way out of Manchester. But we stopped at a pay-phone to call the pub ahead and let them know we were heading back – we had a brilliant night.”
You can relive the 1991 Premiership Final by watching our full classic match replay over at Hull FC Live. To watch the match in full, click here