Dean Hadley missed out on a Challenge Cup final earlier in his career, but his love for the competition has never petered out, and he’s delighted to be back at Wembley with Hull KR this weekend.
The utility forward – who recently penned a contract extension – came through the ranks at KR’s cross-city rivals Hull FC, whom he debuted for in 2013. Three years later, as the Black and Whites won the the Challenge Cup under the arch, he was chosen as the 18th man by then-boss Lee Radford.
And having missed out on a Wembley appearance in that triumph over Warrington Wolves, Hadley was then out on a season-long loan at Wakefield Trinity as FC went back-to-back, winning the cup again 12 months later with a final success against Wigan Warriors.
Hadley’s heartbreaks haven’t suppressed love for Challenge Cup
Joining the Robins on loan in 2019, before making the move a permanent one ahead of 2020, Hadley’s Challenge Cup woes sadly don’t end there.
Knocked out at the quarter-final stage in both 2019 and 2020, KR then exited in just Round 3 of the competition a year later in a 33-32 defeat to Castleford Tigers. And in 2022, their journey in the Challenge Cup ended at the semi-final stage in embarrassing fashion as Hadley and his teammates were torn apart by Huddersfield Giants at Elland Road.
Nonetheless, exorcising demons isn’t a topic on the KR man’s mind ahead of Saturday’s final against Leigh Leopards, which he’s ready for.
Hadley – who last week turned 31 – told Love Rugby League: “I’m just buzzing, it’s a real good occasion playing in a Challenge Cup final at Wembley, and it’s what one that I’m really looking forward to.
“This is why you play. Going back to when you were a kid, this was the game that you always watched. Challenge Cup Finals, and games like this, are the games you want to play in. You’ve definitely got to embrace it and be excited about it.
“It’s different to a normal game, but that’s a good thing for me. It’s a time to be excited and it’s something to look forward to, but I also understand that it’s important not to get lost in all this extra stuff.
“For us as players and staff, we’ve got to go about this game as we would any other in terms of our preparation. There’s obviously things added to it, but it’s important to concentrate and build the week gradually so that you’re good to go come gameday.”
Trying to get the better of the Leopards
If Hadley is to pick up a second winners’ medal in the Challenge Cup on Saturday, he’ll have to play his part in a KR victory against Leigh for the first time this season.
Adrian Lam’s Leopards have surprised many since being promoted from the Championship last term, winning 14 of their 21 league games in 2023 so far to sit 3rd on the ladder, level on points with Wigan Warriors in 2nd.
Two of those 14 wins have come against the Robins, one early on in the season at Craven Park which saw the visitors nick it late on, and the second in the North West with hosts Leigh comfortable victors.
Hadley is in no mood to let that become a third this weekend. The KR forward added: “We’ve had two defeats against them, and both were different games. The last one, we were miles off it but credit to them because they’re a really good side, they’ve shown that this year.
“They’ve got loads of threats, top players, especially in the outside backs. You look at the experience that they’ve got, and we obviously know what’s coming our way on Saturday. Going back to that first game, it’s one we should have won.
“We were winning all game, but let it slip at the end. We can take things from both of those games, but it’s a different game and a totally different occasion. It’s about who turns up and performs on the day.
“This one will definitely be intense. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, but I’d say it’s going to be a close game and probably an exciting one for the neutral.
“Usually in big games or cup finals, they are usually quite close and defences come out on top. You don’t really tend to get big blowout scorelines all that often. I think it’s going to be a top game, it’s exciting for both teams because it’s been a while since either have won major silverware.”