How do you bounce back from Challenge Cup Final defeat?
Winning is everything in sport.
The reason athletes train, work and push themselves so hard is to be the best, to fulfil their potential and to reap the rewards that success brings.
Another big component of sport however is defeat and the contrast in emotions between the Hull FC and Warrington players at full-time at Wembley Stadium on Saturday told the whole story.
For Hull it was the club’s first ever Challenge Cup win at Wembley and banished the memories of painful defeats in 2008 and 2013. It was also a just reward for the outstanding improvement the side has made this season and possibly the first part of a lucrative treble.
For Warrington however the players collapsed on the pitch dejected, despondent and forlorn. This was no ordinary defeat and the Wolves were, and still are, hurting.
In the most nail-biting Challenge Cup final for more than a decade, Warrington will feel they did more than enough to win the trophy. They kept Hull scoreless for an hour with some gruelling defending and were leading 10-6 with seven minutes left on the clock. Even in the dying minutes had it not been for a last-ditch, heroic tackle from Danny Houghton on Ben Currie the colours on the ribbons of the trophy would be primrose and blue.
Warrington’s biggest challenge now is bouncing back. But amidst the disappointment and cup final heartache, how do the Wolves pick themselves up?
At the start of this year new England and Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett said it took him a month to get over the Broncos’ agonising 17-16 NRL Grand Final defeat to North Queensland last season.
But Warrington don’t have a month. They don’t have a pre-season or a whole new campaign to readjust and start afresh.
Sitting second in the table and just one point behind leaders Hull, they are still well placed to compete for the League Leaders’ Shield and Old Trafford glory next month.
Their four remaining Super 8s fixtures are daunting however with a difficult trip to Catalans this Saturday followed by a local derby against Widnes before top-of-the-table clashes against Wigan and Hull.
The Wolves’ top-four spot is assured but they will be eager not to drop-off during the business end of the season and to push for an all important home tie in the play-offs by finishing first or second.
A key positive for Warrington is that head coach Tony Smith has been in this situation before. In 2005 he saw his Leeds side suffer a demoralising 25-24 Challenge Cup final defeat to -you guessed it – Hull at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
That defeat did not deter the Rhinos that season however who finished second in the league, beat St Helens to book their Grand Final place before losing 15-6 to rivals Bradford at Old Trafford.
Winning the Grand Final after suffering Challenge Cup final misery is not unheard of however with Leeds bouncing back to lift the Super League crown in both 2011 and 2012.
Moreover, Castleford would have claimed the League Leaders’ Shield in 2014 after Wembley defeat had they not lost to Catalans in the final game of the regular season.
Last season, Hull KR responded to their 50-0 Wembley drubbing to Leeds by winning their four remaining Middle 8s games to assure their Super League spot – albeit against weaker opposition.
With key creative players Chris Sandow and Kurt Gidley now on the sidelines and Ben Westwood ruled out for the rest of the campaign, Warrington have even more hurdles to overcome if they are to finish the season on a high.
The Wolves now have to quickly put their Wembley pain behind them and channel the experience into a hunger that will drive them to their first ever Super League title.
After all, overcoming adversity is the true sign of champions.