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CHALLENGE CUP | Semi-finals preview

Just four teams remain as the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup reaches the semi-final stage, with four Betfred Super League sides in contention for the famous old trophy.

League leaders St Helens play against Catalans Dragons, who survived the bottom four after a good end to the regular season. Straight after that, top four hopefuls, Warrington Wolves face a Leeds Rhinos side whose year comes down to this as they attempt to salvage their 2018 campaign.

Here I’ll be taking a look at their seasons so far and what making it to Wembley and potentially winning the Challenge Cup would mean to the respective clubs.

St Helens

The Saints have been by far the best team in the league this season and a Challenge Cup success would be the perfect way to set themselves up for the end of season play-offs. Much of their success has come from the way head coach Justin Holbrook has built up the side from last year, signing the players he needed to and now using his coaching abilities to drive the team forward to success.

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It helps to have players in the side like Ben Barba, the Australian full-back who has been a sensation since joining the club shortly after Holbrook, but having players like Tommy Makinson, Mark Percival and Jonny Lomax feeding off him is a blessing for the Red Vee.

The forwards this year for St Helens have been immense as well, with James Roby leading in every way and prop Luke Thompson in incredible form among others. Saints have not reached the Challenge Cup final for a decade, so is it their time to shine on Wembley Way?

Catalans Dragons

It wasn’t a very good start to 2018 for the Dragons but there’s been a remarkable turnaround in the last couple of months. Steve McNamara has, like Holbrook, built up his side and he is now getting the French outfit to play as they should be.

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One factor for their coach’s success has been his recruitment skills. He brought in two players in Lewis Tierney and Michael McIlorum who have strong experience winning trophies with Wigan, but it is the mid-season signing of Josh Drinkwater that has really helped change their fortunes and turn them into a winning machine.

Catalans are in a Challenge Cup semi-final for only the third time and are yet to win any silverware in their short life, but could beating the Saints push them on for future success? The signs are all looking bright at the moment.

Leeds Rhinos

It has been a torrid season for the 2017 champions. Injury woes have been the main reason why Leeds haven’t pushed on since their Grand Final win and they now spend the rest of the year in the Qualifiers, but could a Wembley appearance be a way to salvage their season?

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The Rhinos know all about winning trophies and few have been more successful than Kevin Sinfield, and he will see this as a big opportunity to earn his first coaching honour after taking the reins from long-serving Brian McDermott.

Their form has been awful but they know how to perform in the big games, so can their champion mentality still prevail?

Warrington Wolves

Since succeeding Tony Smith, Steve Price has done a really solid job at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, with Warrington sitting in the top four in Super League and looking forward to a fifth Cup semi-final in ten years.

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Price will need to call upon players like Stefan Ratchford, Josh Charnley, Kevin Brown, Chris Hill, Daryl Clark and Mike Cooper to be the main influences. Wire fans have been let down on many occasions in the big games, not least in 2016 when they were the best team all season but lost at both Wembley and Old Trafford.

The Wolves are still in the hunt for two trophies, so can this finally be their year?

My Predictions

St Helens 32-20 Catalans Dragons

Warrington Wolves 24-16 Leeds Rhinos

Follow us on Twitter for live updates on both matches on Sunday.

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