Challenge Cup Final: Warrington V Leeds Venue: Wembley Stadium KO: Saturday 2:30 pm
This Saturday sees the biggest occasion of the domestic rugby league year when Warrington Wolves and Leeds Rhinos face off in the 111th Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
The match is a repeat of the 2010 final in which the Wolves posted an emphatic 30-6 victory to claim successive Challenge Cup wins as this time round Tony Smith’s men aim for their third Cup success in four seasons. A Wolves win would continue the run of sides from in or around the region winning the Challenge Cup since the re-opening of the New Wembley in 2007.
The Rhinos, by contrast, have not tasted Cup glory since 1999, the year the Yorkshiremen won the last final at the Old Wembley, and despite the club enjoying one of its most successful spells over the past decade, the team will be desperate for a win at Wembley, still the missing piece of the jigsaw for Kevin Sinfield et al. dynasty.
Route to Wembley – R4: Keighley(a) 44-18, R5: Bradford(h) 32-16, QF: Catalans(a) 32-22, SF: Huddersfield(n) 33-6.
The Wire’s road to Wembley has in many ways mirrored much of their whole season so far, with some steady wins against lower opposition without fully hitting their straps, mixed in with a big performance against a top challenger when it matters.
That crunch performance came in the quarter-finals in Perpignan against an inform Catalans Dragons side to affirm the Wolves’ big game credentials to book their place in the semi-finals where they saw off a struggling Huddersfield with another dominant display. Recent form in Super League, excluding last week’s defeat in London where Smith rested 8 first-teamers, has seen them emphatically overcome both St Helens and leaders Wigan demonstrating the bullish mood the Wolves are currently in as they continue their quest to achieve a Cup and Grand Final double.
A side littered with talent, the Wolves will have potential match winners across the Wembley field, including Lee Briers and instrumental hooker Michael Monaghan, who have both won the Lance Todd trophy for man-of-the-match at Wembley in Warrington’s recent cup wins. Add to that 34-year old fullback Brett Hodgson, who has been in superb form which has seen him sign a 2-year extension to his contract and arguably the most formidable three-quarterline in the country and the Leeds defence will have its work cut out should the equally formidable Warrington forwards get them on the front foot.
Route to Wembley – R4: Wakefield(h) 38-18, R5: Salford(a) 16-10, QF Leigh(a) 60-12 , SF: Wigan(n) 39-28
Leeds’ route to booking their third successive visit to the national stadium featured a major scare which nearly saw them crashed out in the last 16. Routine wins over Wakefield and Championship side Leigh in the quarter-final sandwiched the tight battle with Salford which the Rhinos scraped through in the kind of gritty win which many cup winning sides have endured on their way to Wembley success.
And then last month the Rhinos caused the shock of the semi-finals when they produced another big win on the big stage to knock out the holders and league leaders Wigan Rob Burrow was exceptional, at the heart of most of Leeds’ attack that afternoon, which came along with highlight performances from fellow big match trustees Danny McGuire, captain Kevin Sinfield and prop forward and ex-England captain Jamie Peacock. This latest demonstration of the Rhinos’ big game knack has led to many pundits saying Leeds’ name is finally on the elusive Challenge Cup.
However, the Rhinos have been rocked by the news that McGuire will miss the showpiece with a knee injury picked up in a league win over Widnes a fortnight ago. The shattering news strikes parallels with the Rhinos being rocked by the injury to Peacock which ruled him out of the Wembley showpiece 2 years ago against Warrington, when the Rhinos were steamrollered. However, Peacock will be determined this time around to add to Challenge Cup success with his hometown club, along with his 2 winners medals won with Bradford. And extra motivation for the Leeds side going into Saturday is that no side has ever lost three successive finals at Wembley, which is a first they are desperate to avoid.
Challenge Cup Facts:
- Warrington have won the Cup 7 times, and are the 4th most successful club in Challenge Cup history.
- Leeds are the 3rd most successful Challenge Cup club with 11 victories and if they won on Saturday would join St Helens on 12 as joint-2nd in number of Cup wins.
- Warrington won their first Challenge Cup in 1904-5 with a 6-0 win over Hull KR after losing their first two final appearances
- Leeds first won the Cup in a Final replay 26-12 over Hull after a the Final ended in a 7-7 draw.
- The 2012 final will be the third time Leeds and Warrington have met in the showpiece occasion with the head-to-head level on 1-1. Leeds won 18-2 in the final of 1935/6 and Warrington won 30-6 in 2010.
- If Warrington win on Saturday it would be their third win under the New Wembley arch and they would overtake St Helens as the rugby league side with the most wins at the stadium since its re-development.
- The Challenge Cup was first playes for in 1896/7 and is the oldest rugby league competition in the world. The first ever final saw Batley defeat St Helens 10-3 at Headingley.
- The Challenge Cup Final is the only event in professional rugby league which still goes to a replay if there is a draw after 80 minutes. A replay is scheduled for the Reebok Stadium, Bolton on Wednesday September 5th should the scores be level between the sides on Saturday.
- The last Cup final replay took place in 1982 when Hull beat Widnes at Elland Road, Leeds.
All the ingredients are set, and if both these talented sides perform near their potential for another Wembley classic and extremely difficult to call. All the questions will be answered, (prospects of a replay aside) come just before 4:30pm on Saturday afternoon.
Leeds by 4.
I had Leeds to win since their semi final to finally win the trophy they crave. Warrington’s recent league form, London aside, and the injury to McGuire had me swaying but I’m still backing it to finally be the Rhinos’ day, just.