This Sunday, Wigan Warriors and Salford Red Devils go head to head for a place in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. Both sides are just 80-minutes away from a dream come true, and a chance to walk out and earn their spot in rugby league history.
ROAD TO THE SEMI-FINALS
Wigan Warriors have had a mixed run to the semi-finals, with a comfortable 42-12 win away at Swinton Lions, followed up by a nail-biting 27-26 win away at Warrington Wolves in the quarters. They breezed through against Swinton, running in eight tries, with seven different scorers. It was a crucial win at the time for Wigan, as they’d been on a poor run of form, without a win in their previous two games. In the quarter-final, they faced a much tougher test against fellow strugglers, Warrington Wolves. Wigan led 18-12 at halftime, and looked good for their lead. However, the Wire hit back, and the game was level at 20-20 with 15 minutes to go. It was a Sam Tomkins drop-goal that would ultimately seal the deal for Wigan and send them through to the semi-finals.
Salford Red Devils also had a mixed run to the semi-finals, with a tricky 29-22 win against newly founded Toronto Wolfpack. That was followed up by a 24-14 win against recently relegated Hull KR, and in the quarters, they comfortably beat fellow Super League side Wakefield Trinity 30-6. Their game with Toronto was the best of the three, as it was the closest that the Red Devils came to exiting the competition. Although, they were 14-0 down against Hull KR in the next round, until they finally found their groove and ran in four tries for the win. Their latest cup game was the easiest win, as they breezed past Wakefield in what was a comfortable evening for Salford, as they booked their place in the semi-finals for the first time since 1998.
LAST TIME OUT
Wigan go into this game on the back of comfortable 34-0 win against a youthful looking Leeds Rhinos side. It was an easy victory in the end for the Warriors, but the scoreline doesn’t tell the full story, as Leeds defended well and stayed strong for so long, but ultimately the experienced Wigan side broke them down, and managed to pour on the points. They were 14-0 up at halftime with tries from Michael McIlorum, Sam Tomkins and George Williams. In the second half, tries from Tom Davies, a second from Williams and two from Oliver Gildart was more than enough to seal a morale-boosting 34-0 win.
Salford go into this game on the back of a disappointing 25-0 defeat, away to the Leigh Centurions. This wasn’t the best of performances to have coming into the club’s biggest game in years. They were 18-0 down at halftime after tries from Greg McNally, Atelea Vea and Samisoni Langi left the Red Devils with a lot of work to do in the second half. Coach Ian Watson wasn’t happy with his sides efforts, and stated that players would lose their shirts after that performance. It didn’t get better in the second half as Leigh kicked a drop-goal and McNally got his second try to wrap up a 25-0 win.
Personally, I cannot wait for this game. As I write this, the weather forecast is looking a bit wet and windy for Sunday, and that will play a part on the game.
Sam Tomkins vs Niall Evalds
Last week, in the absence of Gareth O’Brien, Niall Evalds was forced to play in the full-back role, and it’s safe to say he didn’t do the best of jobs. He looks set to continue his role there, and will be missed on the wing once again. As for Wigan, Sam Tomkins played well last week, chipping in with a great solo effort, that reminded fans what he once was. This is the sort of big game that he needs to step up, and shine in.
Battle of the Halves
This is where the game will be won and lost in my opinion. Both have some real quality in the halves, and both have players who can change and influence a game in an instant. The biggest threat on the pitch this Sunday will be George Williams, and Salford will know that. As for the Red Devils, both Michael Dobson and Todd Carney have chipped in with six tries and 15 assists between them this season.
Liam Farrell vs Ben Murdoch-Masila
This should be a cracker. Liam Farrell makes his return to the side, and just in time. He’s such a crucial player for Wigan, and that left-edge he plays on with Oliver Gildart and Joe Burgess is just superb. As for Ben Murdoch-Masila, he’s just an absolute machine. He’s Salford’s top scorer this season with 13 tries, and is a very dangerous player when given time on the ball. Both will go head to head on Sunday, and I bet they can’t wait.
This will be a very good game of rugby league. The stadium will be packed out, and the atmosphere will fuel the game to an extremely high level. Both sides will give it their absolute all, but I feel Wigan’s know how and experience will shine through on the day.
Wigan Warriors by 10
Wigan Warriors head coach Shaun Wane:
“Salford are a very good team. They’ve signed a few players recently and that shows you how seriously they’re taking this game.
“They’ve been in the top four for a long time and done a lot better than us this year. This is knockout, it means everything to us and everything to them.
“I can’t put it into words how much the Challenge Cup means. I have great memories of our win against Hull FC in 2013. It’ll be a packed house on Sunday and a great atmosphere.”
Salford Red Devils head coach Ian Watson:
“We’ve had a bit of a blip in performances recently but this is a different competition and a different ball game all together.
“I’ve been in the Challenge Cup final a couple of times and lost and I’ve told the lads I want to change that this season.
“Everyone knows what Wigan are about, they want to come out and be physical but I know we’ll be good on Sunday. It’s these occasions you look forward to the most.”
Shaun Wane is boosted by the return of Joel Tomkins and Liam Farrell who are the only changes to the squad from last week’s win, as the pair come in for youngsters Callum Field and Jack Wells.
Ian Watson makes four changes to the squad from last week, with new signings Manu Vatuvei and Tyrone McCarthy set to make their debuts, while Craig Kopczak and George Griffin also come in for Adam Walne, Dan Murray, Rob Lui and Jordan Walne.
Wigan Warriors: John Bateman, Joe Burgess, Tony Clubb, Tom Davies, Liam Farrell, Anthony Gelling, Oliver Gildart, Willie Isa, Thomas Leuluai, Liam Marshall, Michael Mcilorum, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Powell, Ryan Sutton, Taulima Tautai, Joel Tomkins, Sam Tomkins and George Williams.
Salford Red Devils: Gareth O’Brien, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Craig Kopczak, Greg Johnson, George Griffin, Jake Bibby, Josh Jones, Junior Sa’u, Kris Welham, Lama Tasi, Logan Tomkins, Manu Vatuvei, Michael Dobson, Niall Evalds, Olsi Krasniqi, Ryan Lannon, Todd Carney, Tyrone McCarthy and Weller Hauraki.
Referee: James Child
Venue: Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Date/Time: Sunday 30th July 2017 – 14:30pm BST