Saints and Wigan Ready for Challenge Cup Showdown
St Helens and Wigan both warmed up for next Saturday’s mouthwatering Challenge Cup Quarter-final derby clash at the DW Stadium with comfortable home victories in round 13 of the Stobart Super League last Friday night.
Saints, with the aid of a Chris Flannery hat-trick saw off Wakefield 38-12 at Langtree Park, whilst Wigan eased to a 36-22 defeat of Hull KR, with some late tries making the scoreline more respectable for the well-beaten visitors. The win put the Warriors went to the top of the league, with Huddersfield’s defeat away at Catalans the following day keeping them at the summit.
However, league standings will count for nothing this week as the game’s greatest rivalry is resumed as the Lancashire neighbours go head to head in what will be the biggest occasion of the domestic season so far.
Wigan rightly go into the tie as favourites, with last month’s 28-10 victory over St Helens on Good Friday being the last meeting between the sides. The Warriors that day displayed a strong defensive performance that has typified their season so far. Add that to the sharp, dynamic attack Wigan have displayed so far this season, with halfbacks Brett Finch and Thomas Leulai in wonderful form alongside the mercurial Sam Tomkins, and the Warriors have plenty of reason to be confident going into Saturday’s encounter.
For Saints, after the disappointing start to the year which led to the departure of coach Royce Simmons, caretaker coach Mike Rush has guided them to seven wins from eight , with Wigan the only side so far to have got the better of the interim Saints coach. It will be imperative for Saints that their forwards match Wigan up front, and with the absence of Tony Puletua from the 19-man squad announced today, they will need huge efforts from all the prop forwards to stand a chance. With probably the best player in Super League in James Roby at dummy half, and Jonny Lomax at scrum-half Saints certainly have an attacking threat that can unlock the formidable Wigan defence, providing that the fprwards can get them on the front foot.
The last cup meeting between the sides saw Wigan prevail 18-12 in the semi-final stage last year, before going on to lift the cup at Wembley. They will be keen on a return to Wembley as the club searches for successive cup successes for the first time since their famous run of 8 consecutive Wembley successes between 1988 and 1995. Saints have been the Cup kings of the modern era, winning the famous trophy five times during the ‘Noughties’ and they have not failed to make the semi-final stages in 12 years. However, Saints have not made it to Wembley since their last cup triumph in 2008 and after a lacklustre start to the league they will be desperate to light up their season and make a return to the ‘home’ of the Challenge Cup this year.
With the unique magic of the Challenge Cup, along with the added bit of spice that comes with a local derby as both teams’ will be desperate to knock out their closest rivals. The fires have already being stoked in the media due to comments from Wigan coach Shaun Wane over them wanting to make life as hostile as possible for their rivals. The ingredients are already set set for what should be a fascinating tie at the DW Stadium.
LSMedia prediction: Wigan by 8
An exciting, close-fought derby encounter with the Warriors ultimately having too much threat.
Home advantage always plays an important part in cup ties and Wigan will be especially thankful to have that this weekend, following fears after the draw was made that the match would have to be switched to an alternate venue. Due to the Warriors’ unique tenancy agreement with Wigan Athletic owner Dave Whelan, the club is not usually permitted to play 24 hours before a scheduled Latics match. With the Latics at home in the Premier League on Sunday and the BBC predictably allocating the Challenge Cup tie for their premier Saturday afternoon slot, there was much uncertainty over the venue until an announcement was made to confirm the match would be at the DW was made last Friday. Whilst sanity was thankfully restored in the end, uncertainty over the venue for the sport’s most famous fixture should not be happening. Considering that this weekend is the final week of the football season, and the RFL’s prior knowledge of clubs’ tenancy agreements, surely the episode was one with a bit of forward planning and organisation could have been easily avoided. However with the correct venue finally announced, we can look forward to a mouth-watering occasion as the sport’ greatest rivals battle it out for a place in the semi-finals.
The other Quarter final ties see the only remaining Championship club Leigh host Leeds Rhinos on Friday night. On Sunday Warrington face a difficult trip across the Channel to the inform Catalans Dragons, with Huddersfield against London finishing proceedings ahead of the Semi-final draw on Sunday evening.
Super League XVII Round Thirteen results:
St Helens 38-12 Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
Wigan Warriors 36-22 Hull KR
Hull FC 34-20 Leeds Rhinos
Catalans Dragons 27-20 Huddersfield Giants
London Broncos 22-29 Bradford Bulls
Warrington Wolves 24-20 Salford City Reds
Castleford Tigers 36-12 Widnes Vikings
Featured image: wiganwarriors.com