We’re set for a cracking double header in Bolton as four sides fight for a place at Wembley. Here are my predictions…
St Helens vs Catalans Dragons (Sun, 12:30pm)
When this draw was made two months ago, it looked like league leaders St Helens virtually had a bye to the Challenge Cup final. It certainly doesn’t look that way now.
Since losing to Saints at the Totally Wicked Stadium at the start of May, Catalans have won nine of their 12 matches and lost just two – the first was at similarly in-form Huddersfield by a single point, before a much-changed line-up was only narrowly beaten at Wigan last week despite being a man down for half of the game.
Greg Bird will be a big miss as he serves the first game of a four-match ban, but this side now look confident enough to take anyone on regardless of who is out on the field, as they proved at Wigan. That said, there is one man the Dragons will certainly need at the top of his game to give them any chance of victory.
It’s no coincidence that their superb run of form has come after the arrival of Josh Drinkwater, and he has been playing the best rugby of his life. The way he has controlled games and created chance after chance has been remarkable, and with another huge performance from him Catalans have every chance of winning.
They would likely be the favourites against any other side in Super League, but unfortunately for them they come up against a St Helens side who have won their last 14. The league leaders have already sealed their place in the top four before the Super 8s even begin, and could have the League Leaders’ Shield wrapped up within a couple of weeks.
Their attack, led by young scrum-half Danny Richardson and superstar full-back Ben Barba, has been irresistible this season. Despite that they’ve only scored two tries in each of their last two games, with Wigan and Warrington giving them two very tough contests. They’ve now shown they can grind out the wins as well as blow teams away though, and that can only be a good thing.
One piece of bad news this week has been the broken arm suffered by Dominique Peyroux during that win over Warrington. The second rower has been ever-present this year but will now miss much of the 8s and is highly unlikely to feature again in the Challenge Cup. He has been immense, and I would be a little worried that because Saints’ line-up has been so consistent all year, the reserve players could struggle when forced straight into action.
That said, how can you bet against them? It should be a fantastic tie either way, and the Dragons will hopefully bring their best and push them all the way. But St Helens have established themselves as a superb all-round winning machine, and they will find a way to come out on top.
Prediction: St Helens 26-24 Catalans Dragons
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