It was a dramatic weekend of British sport and followers of the Rugby League scene certainly got their fair share of enjoyment out of the schedule. The 2019 Coral Challenge Cup was played on Saturday afternoon and those in attendance, as well as armchair fans watching the live coverage, were treated to a spectacular renewal.
St Helens and Warrington Wolves lined up in the decider and it was The Wolves who came out on top and they did so in some style too. The match was expected to be a tense affair heading towards kick-off. Bookmakers had their say and predicted a competitive encounter. Pundits, former players and fans of both teams made their predictions and although many called the winner of the game correctly, few picked out such a commanding performance from the victors.
Warrington Wolves smashed their way to a jaw-dropping 18-4 win over St Helens to claim the Coral sponsored Challenge Cup, winning with plenty to spare. Philbin, Murdoch-Masila and Clark scored the tries that mattered for the winning team and that was backed up by two conversions for Ratchford and another from the boot of Patton. Fages hit a try in response for the beaten team but that was their only score of the day, and it came in the second half, the scoreboard reading Warrington Wolves 12-0 St Helens at the break. The damage was done in the opening period of play and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to be St Helens’ day.
Both teams sent out strong line-ups for the final, as was expected, and those who took to the field were fully rested and ready for action following a brief break in play. That meant we could rely on an exciting renewal of this world-famous competition and that’s exactly what followers enjoyed. The stands were packed for what was a real celebration of all things great and good about British Rugby League and before the opening whistle, it looked like we’d settle in for one of the most fiercely contested Challenge Cup finals in recent years.
The teams looked like this…
1 Jonny Lomax
2 Thomas Mackinson
3 Kevin Naqama
4 Mark Percival
5 Regan Grace
6 Theo Fages
8 Alex Walmsley
9 James Roby
10 Luke Thompson
11 Zeb Taia
15 Morgan Knowles
17 Dominique Peyroux
23 Lachlan Coote
12 Joseph Paulo
13 Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook
16 Kyle Amor
20 Jack Ashworth
1 Stefan Ratchford
2 Tom Lineham
3 Bryson Goodwin
5 Josh Charnley
8 Chris Hill
9 Daryl Clark
10 Mike Cooper
11 Ben Currie
12 Jack Hughes
13 Ben Murdoch-Masila
14 Jason Clark
15 Declan Paton
18 Toby King
17 Joe Philbin
19 Sitaleki Akauola
22 Jake Mamo
23 Matt Davis
Both teams had blazed a trail of glory towards the final at Wembley and both managers went in believing their squad had what it took to secure their place in the history books by winning the Challenge Cup. A strong case could be made for either side going into the contest and there were certainly plenty of shrewd backers with their money resting on the chances of either team, but Rugby League is an unpredictable business. There’s only room for one champion and that was the Warrington Wolves who proved themselves to beat head and shoulders above the competition this year. They had impressed on route to Wembley and were about to prove their worth once again.
They defeated Hull FC in the semi-finals with a 22-14 scoreline on 27 July. That result was achieved thanks to tries scored by Goodwin, Currie, King and Philbin, more than enough to see off an opponent that fired back from Faraimo and Taylor. It was a thrilling match but one that gave us the correct winners at the end. Wolves were far too good that day and fully deserved their spot at Wembley and place in the final.
St Helens hammered Halifax in their final, battering their way to an incredible 26-2 score. As far as semi-final performances go, that was one of the most convincing you’ll ever see with the victors sending out a message of intent for the final. St Helens got the job done in the second half, but the final score flattered them as the teams were locked at 8-2 at the end of the first period. St Helens scored tries through Roby, Peyroux, Lomax and Fages.
St Helens Started as Betting Favourites
That semi-final performance meant St Helens went into the final as betting favourites, despite the fact their opponents had a reputation for being involved in big match upsets. They did just that 12 months ago, losing to Catalans Dragons in the final, but bookmakers failed to learn the lessons of that day and were overly generous when it came to offering odds on the underdogs. Punters spotted the obvious mistake in that approach and there were more than a few value hunters who acted swiftly to snatch at the big price.
Saturday’s win was the ninth Challenge Cup title for Warrington Wolves, but it will go down as one of their best yet. They were written off by the bookies and most pundits, making it all the sweeter, but they also got number nine by beating a very good team in St Helens, one with no lack of talents in their ranks. A St Helens title win would’ve come as no shock to even casual followers of the sport but, on the day, they got nowhere near the trophy.
The match wasn’t as clear-cut as the final score would have you believe, however, and it seemed to hinge on a crazy 15 minutes spell that saw the tie swing back and forth. Saints had to try controversially ruled out, Warrington swooped to stick the boot into their opponents while they were feeling hard done by. The victors scored two tries in quick succession to leave St Helens shell-shocked. Rugby League can change on the spin of a coin or blink of an eye and this game did just that. The favourites could have opened up a lead if the two tries had been awarded but before they could finish complaining, they were two tries down. The fans and players couldn’t quite believe their eyes as Warrington climbed off the canvas to deliver a knockout blow.
Refereeing Decisions cost Saints Dear
Refereeing decisions cost St Helens their shot at glory and they have now suffered 10 defeats in 22 Challenge Cup matches. The second disallowed try was, perhaps, the most controversial one and was a fine example of just how much tension there was in the air on Saturday. Mark Percival thought he had scored when teammate Zeb Taia was ruled to have spilt the ball during the build-up, hampered by a challenge from Murdoch-Masila. The St Helens fans raged at the officials, the players complained and fought their corner, but while they were preoccupied with the injustice of it all, Warrington Wolves went up the other end and rubbed salt into the wounds with a try.
Wire scored for Wolves following a great piece of play by Philbin. That effort was converted by Ratchford and, as the dust settled, the same player was back kicking for another converted try scored by Murdoch-Masila. It would’ve got a lot worse early in the second period when Wire had a try cancelled out by the officials, the man in the middle calling the scorer back for obstruction on Tom Lineham. That was a let-off for St Helens at the time, but they couldn’t make it count.
Justin Holbrook spoke to the press at full time and although he was honest enough to see the good in the match, calling it a cracking game, he pointed at the first try that was chalked off as a real turning point in the tie. He was keen not to make excuses but thought it was the wrong decision and the try should have counted. He did take confidence from the way his team rallied back in the second half in 30c heat and was proud of their efforts, despite the final result.
Steve Price was in a better mood when addressing the sporting press post-match. The victorious boss, labelling it a special performance. He credited his team for beating the best team of the season and put it down to resilience, breaking down their opponents. Price was ecstatic for his team and their achievements and he certainly had every right to be. They now turn their attentions back to their Super League campaign which resumes on Thursday 29 August. Warrington Wolves travel to Salford Red Devils that evening for a 7.45pm kick-off and it’ll be interesting to see how they react. Will the drama of a Challenge Cup final win leave them with a hangover and fatigued, or will Saturday’s heroics inject fresh confidence into the ranks?
Traders Happy to Stick with St Helens
Despite Saturday’s defeat, St Helens are odds-on favourites to win this season’s Super League final and there’s no better out there than the 8/11 offered by Betfair. That’s tight but it’s more generous than the 4/6 you’ll find trading at most other firms. Warrington Wolves are second-favourites and have a 4/1 price tag attached by Ladbrokes, again that’s a market best price, some firms stuck at 3/1 on the same bet.
Wigan is joint second-favourites with 4/1 trading before we get into the big priced outsiders. Hull is as big as 16/1, Salford 33/1 and there’s a chunky 40/1 trading about Castleford defying logic and finishing on the top step at the conclusion of the campaign. The regular season betting is also dominated by St Helens and they are already weighed in as winners, according to the prices, with 1/12 sent out by Ladbrokes. Warrington is the only danger at 13/2, third favourites Catalans Dragons written off at 33/1.
At the opposite end of the table, there’s an interesting market to finish bottom of the division. London is 6/5 favourites on the back of a woeful season, and they are followed in by Huddersfield at 9/4, Hull KR 5/2 and Wakefield at 8/1. Leeds look to have done enough to save themselves from the threat of the wooden spoon and are 20/1 to finish bottom.