Catalans take on Warrington in the 2018 Challenge Cup final. Here’s everything you need to know…
Catalans head coach Steve McNamara has returned to a full-strength side as the club search for the first piece of major silverware in their history.
They have fielded much-changed line-ups in their previous two league games, defeats to Warrington and Wigan, with Iain Thornley, Jason Baitieri and Mickael Goudemand the only players to have appeared in both and then be named in the 19-man squad for Wembley.
The 17 who conquered St Helens so impressively in the semi-finals are all in contention again, so Saturday’s line-up may well pick itself.
The likes of David Mead, Benjamin Garcia and captain Remi Casty return after taking no part in their Super League fixture last weekend, while star full-back Tony Gigot is the only player not to have appeared at all since the win in Bolton.
Greg Bird sits out the last of his four-game suspension after an appeal against the length of the ban failed, while winger Jodie Broughton is out for the rest of the season with injury.
Catalans 19-man squad: Mead, Thornley, Wiliame, Yaha, Langi, Casty, Moa, Anderson, Garcia, Bousquet, Simon, Baitieri, McIlorum, Tierney, Jullien, Gigot, Goudemand, Drinkwater, Edwards.
Warrington head coach Steve Price has been less dramatic with his changes in recent weeks, and has a strong squad available to him as the Wire look for their ninth Challenge Cup triumph.
Stefan Ratchford, Daryl Clark and Mike Cooper were rested for the win over Catalans while Harvey Livett, Josh Charnley and Ben Westwood come into the squad after sitting out last Friday’s defeat at Castleford.
Ben Murdoch-Masila is named in the squad despite not playing in either of those games since the semi-final dismantling of Leeds, but the big news is the return of centre Ryan Atkins after a two-month injury lay-off.
All of the 17 that took to the field in Bolton are in contention for the final but Sitaleki Akauola isn’t available after receiving a one-match suspension, while Mitch Brown and Bodene Thompson drop out after appearing in the previous two games.
Ben Currie has been out of action through injury since the Wolves’ first game of this Challenge Cup run, a win over Bradford in April, but otherwise Price has been fortunate on the injury front in his debut campaign.
Warrington 19-man squad: Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, Atkins, K Brown, Roberts, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Hughes, Murdoch-Masila, Patton, Philbin, T King, G King, Livett, Smith, Charnley, Westwood.
This is the fourth meeting of the sides in 2018, and the third in just seven weeks.
Warrington impressively won 26-0 at the Stade Gilbert Brutus in March, when Catalans were really struggling for form in the early months of the season.
That had been turned around by the time of the reverse fixture in July, when the sides played out an entertaining 22-22 draw at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
The Super 8s fixtures brought them back together in Warrington a fortnight ago, with the home side running away with a 56-6 win as the Dragons rested many of their big stars and handed debuts to a number of youngsters.
That result means that Catalans have failed to beat the Wolves in their last five attempts, and they are yet to beat them in the Challenge Cup either with the Wire taking the two past meetings.
Warrington won 32-22 in France in the quarter-finals on their way to their last triumph in 2012, and they beat the Dragons on their way to glory in 2010 as well with a 54-12 rout in the semi-final at Widnes – the last time before this year that Catalans had reached the last four.
KEY BATTLE – Michael McIlorum vs Daryl Clark
This final will be a tough physical battle, and key to the success of either side will be their hookers.
It was a big surprise when Michael McIlroum made the switch from Wigan to Perpignan at the end of last season, and he has shown all of his quality this season to turn around their dismal early-season form.
He has won the Challenge Cup twice before with the Warriors, in 2011 and 2013, and his experience will be crucial again if the trophy is to head to France for the first time.
Opposite him will be Daryl Clark, who is yet to win the competition but is highly tipped to do so this time and potentially take the Lance Todd trophy too.
When he is at his best, putting Warrington on the front foot with quick plays from dummy-half and tackling everything that moves in front of him, he drives the team to victory.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 25th August
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Referee: Robert Hicks
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