50 years on Watersplash memories are as fresh as ever
Today marks 50 years to the day since the famous Watersplash Final at Wembley between Wakefield and Leeds. The final has gone down in the history books and is at the centre of a new BBC documentary which will receive its first airing on Saturday afternoon on BBC One at 1.15pm.
Players and supporters from both sides feature in the documentary which will be shown before the live Challenge Cup clash between Castleford and St Helens. It reveals the story behind the Final, why it went ahead and what happened to the main characters in this most dramatic of Rugby League occasions.
This week some of those players, from Leeds and Wakefield, gathered again at Emerald Headingley for our annual Hall of Fame dinner and the debate over the penalty try still raged as fierce as it did five decades ago which will make this documentary compelling viewing.
Tune in this Saturday at 1.15pm on @BBCOne to watch a brand new documentary about Rugby League’s Legendary Watersplash Final with stars from both teams and fans telling the remarkable tale pic.twitter.com/t5TPQKQIjF
— Leeds Rhinos (@leedsrhinos) May 9, 2018
Leeds 11 Wakefield Trinity 10
Normally, the captain of a Cup-winning team, the sweat of victory still on his brow and the trophy still in his hands, is about the last person one would call on for a dispassionate assessment of the events from which he has just disengaged himself. But the comments made by Clark after Leeds had beaten Wakefield Trinity in the Rugby League Cup Final make him an exception to the rule. “Neither side deserved to lose in those conditions,” he said.
“We won because we had most of the luck. Football skill didn’t count for much.” Brave words from a winner.
There will never be another splash like it. Wembley was awash so much so that one felt concerned whether the players’ insurance against injury included the risk of death by drowning in the pools which covered the pitch.
For much of the time the surface was simply not fit for football to be attempted, the decision to carry on, in an attempt to entertain 90,000 people, most of whom had travelled a long way.
The entertainment provided was a bizarre mixture of Laurel and Hardy slapstick and Wagnerian high drama (yes, thunder and lightning and all), though whether the principals enjoyed the funny bits is doubtful. Two of them at least will enter an emphatic disclaimer.
Atkinson, the Leeds left-winger, gave away the first try (entirely blameless, I must say) and then was the fortunate recipient of a penalty try which won the match for Leeds.
On Don Fox, alas, fortune played one of the cruellest tricks. After 79 minutes he was the man who won the Lance Todd Trophy for the outstanding individual performance in the Final; a minute later, he was the booby who threw away the Cup by missing a kick at goal from in front of the posts. Fox’s left foot, he said, slipped on his last run-up step and caused him to slice the ball wide.
The justice of Mr. J. P. Hebblethwaite’s award of a try to Atkinson, after the Leeds left-winger and three Wakefield players had chased Atkinson’s kick to the line, was bitterly contested. The referee (and Atkinson, naturally) were both convinced that Atkinson would have reached the ball first had not Coetzer impeded him. Brooke maintained stoutly that he had his hand on the ball at the time, so as far as the award of a try was concerned what- ever happened between the other two players was irrelevant.
All the three tries came from kicks. Atkinson teed one up for his opposite number, Hirst, by preventing the ball from going into touch, and then skidding uncontrollably into the cinder track surrounding the touchline. Don Fox’s conversion enabled Trinity to lead 7-4 at half-time, for previously he had landed one penalty goal, against two for Leeds by Risman. In normal circumstances, to have led at all, would have been an achievement after the hammering Shepherd took in the scrums, but here Crosby’s 15-3 advantage merely gave Leeds twelve extra chances to make mistakes.
The Laurel and Hardy interlude lasted from the 15th minute to the 70th when Risman’s improvement of the penalty try put Leeds ahead and gave the cue for Wagner. The frenzied congratulations showered on Risman when he landed a 40-yard penalty goal in the 79th minute showed that Leeds believed they were home (if not dry) with the score 11-7.
But straight from Fox’s kick-off, Hirst, Trinity’s right-winger, went clean through the Leeds defence with a couple of hearty kicks, and before anyone had realised just what was happening, he had thrown himself on the ball for the try which was to result in the most shattering experience of Don Fox’s long career.
Leeds: Risman; A. Smith, Hynes, B. Watson, Atkinson; Shoebottom, Seabourne; Clark (captain), Crosby, K. Eyre, Ramsey, A. Eyre, Batten. Subs: Langley, M. Joyce.
Wakefield Trinity: Cooper; Hirst, Coetzer, Brooke, Batty; Poynton (captain), Owen; Jeanes, Shepherd, D. Fox, Haigh, McLeod, Hawley. Subs: Garthwaite, Round.
Referee: Mr. J. P. Hebblethwaite (York).