Elliot Minchella is relishing his first Betfred Challenge Cup final appearance after rebuilding his playing career in the lower leagues following his release from Leeds Rhinos in 2015; the Hull KR forward and his team-mates face Leigh Leopards in Saturday’s final at Wembley
Last Updated: 10/08/23 5:38pm
On Saturday, Elliot Minchella will play in the first major final of his career when Hull Kingston Rovers take on Leigh Leopards in the Betfred Challenge Cup showpiece at Wembley. However, the back row has taken a road less trodden to get here.
The former West Bowling junior had made a promising start to his professional career with Leeds Rhinos, bursting onto the Super League scene with a try-scoring debut as a 17-year-old in 2013. However, an off-field incident the following year led to him being loaned out to London Broncos in 2015 and being released at the end of the campaign.
Minchella was left to rebuild his career in the lower leagues, first with part-timers Sheffield Eagles, where he had to find a day job outside of the game, and then with home-city club Bradford Bulls before earning a second chance at Hull KR three years ago.
Since then, he has become a vital part of the Robins’ pack and even pushed himself into contention for an England call-up. Most importantly though, Minchella has the opportunity to be part of a team competing for one of rugby league’s biggest prizes.
“It’s tough,” Minchella told Sky Sports, reflecting on life outside the full-time game. “I’d gone from being in a changing room with legends of the game at Leeds to being on a building site or working at a builder’s merchant.
“It was hard, but you lean on those experiences to make you better as a person. That’s what I live by, really – learn from the tough time and enjoy the good ones.
“I’m proud of myself to stick with it and not take no for answer. I kept working hard, kept knocking on the door, and I believe that if you keep working hard you get your reward in the end.
“I haven’t had that just yet, but I’m proud of the journey I’ve been on. I’ve had that never-say-die attitude towards it and I’m looking forward to Saturday.”
Even since his move to Sewell Group Craven Park, things have not always run smoothly. The Robins finished bottom of the table in the pandemic-affected 2020 Super League campaign and Minchella then suffered a season-ending ACL injury in only the second game of the following season.
Nevertheless, the 27-year-old has been able to excel with both Tony Smith and now Willie Peters in charge of the team and believes he has found a club in Hull KR which suits him as a person as well as a player.
“We’ve probably got similar values,” Minchella, who signed a four-year contract extension with Hull KR in April last year, said. “We’re not flashy, but we’re hard-working.
I believe that if you keep working hard you get your reward in the end. I haven’t had that just yet, but I’m proud of the journey I’ve been on.
Hull KR’s Elliot Minchella
“It’s a hard-working community and I love it, and it’s a great fit for me. I think we’re going places and we’ve been on a journey as a club.
“My first year we finished 11th out of 11, and we’re currently sitting in the play-offs. We’ve been in a few semi-finals and obviously the final on Saturday. I’m proud to be a part of it and long may it continue.”
After getting within 80 minutes of a first Super League Grand Final appearance in 2021, Hull KR missed out on the play-offs last year. However, former Gateshead Thunder and Wigan Warriors scrum-half Peters’ first season in charge sees them firmly in contention to make the play-offs.
They have reached Wembley for the first time in eight years too and have an opportunity to bring the Challenge Cup back to east Hull for only the second time in the club’s history, with their sole triumph coming in a 10-5 win against bitter cross-city rivals Hull FC in 1980.
That final berth was secured courtesy of Brad Schneider’s golden-point drop-goal in the 11-10 semi-final win over Cup holders Wigan Warriors at Headingley last month and Minchella believes the attitude they showed that day is indicative of the approach instilled in pre-season.
“That’s something we pride ourselves on, never giving in and being relentless in what we do,” Minchella said.
“We didn’t go away in the semi-final; it took until the 84th minute but we got there in the end and that started in pre-season.
“We had a tough pre-season where we learnt some hard lessons about ourselves and your team-mates, and it brings you tight and connected as a team.
“It’s about never giving in and that’s what the city is about, that’s what east Hull is about, and that’s what we want to be as a team to represent them.”
Minchella is aware of Hull KR’s Challenge Cup final history from both the good and the bad sides, insisting that even though none of the current squad were part of it, they will be learning lessons from the 50-0 defeat to his old club Leeds at Wembley eight years ago.
He is determined to ensure he is not just a participant in the final either as he goes in search of the first major rugby league honour of his career.
“There are people who would bite your hand off to be in these sorts of games,” Minchella said. “I appreciate it and enjoy it, but we’ve got a job to do and that’s win the Challenge Cup.
“I don’t just want to be a part of it, I want to win it and go down in history as a Challenge Cup winner.”
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