On Saturday at 3.00pm, a near-deserted Wembley will host the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final between Leeds and Salford.
Time was when the Cup was the pinnacle of the 13-a-side code season. Played at the end of the old “winter” season, vast crowds would make the long trip down south (many would travel from Wales too) for a lively weekend in the capital – an occasion which sprung places like Batley, Dewbury, Keighleyand Swinton into national importance for a few days at least.
It was a key day in the RL calendar, a grand occasion which is summed up by the picture below showing Neath’s Harold Thomas proudly holding the Cup with one of Rugby League’s all-time greats Gus Risman after Salford’s 7-4 win over Barrow in the 1938 final.
Incidentally, the Cup was presented that year by Aussie cricketer Don Bradman
Harold Thomas holds a special place in Neath RFC’s history as he and his brother D.L. (David Leyshon) became the first Neath brothers to represent Wales together against England in January 1937 in Wales’ 3-4 defeat at Twickenham. His son Nigel is still a Neath RFC season ticket-holder.
Earlier, the Lancastrian side also signed Neath’s outside-half Eddie (“Dodger”) Matthews and brilliant scrum half Cliff Evans but both had moved on before the final.
Leeds RL too captured many a Neath man including internationals Fred Perrett, Dan Pascoe and D.R. Jenkins, Gwyn Parker and post-war G.V. Hughes and the great Lewis Jones.
Saturday’s final might lack the atmosphere associated with past finals but both sides will “Up for t’Cup” !