According to Warrington coach Steve Price, St Helens are ‘the biggest favourites in history of the competition’ when they take on the Wolves in Saturday’s showpiece. Here are the reasons why Saints are rightly favourites and will win the Challenge Cup.
Many believed that their previous meeting just three weeks ago was a pointless affair as Saints are running away with the league and both teams fielded weakened teams. However, Justin Holbrook would not have seen it that way. Their 30-12 victory meant that Saints have beaten the Wire three times this season giving them the psychological edge. Saints will have wanted to get the message in Warrington’s players’ heads that this Saints team are near unbeatable.
Big game experience myth
A lot of people have been saying that one advantage Warrington have over Saints is that even despite losing them, they have more experience in the finals. This may be the case but St Helens also have experience in the big games. Of course, James Roby has a wealth of experience while players such as Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Kyle Amor and Alex Walmsley were all involved in the 2014 Super League Grand Final. Jonny Lomax, Luke Thompson and Tommy Makinson played in front of massive crowds while playing for England in last season’s autumn internationals. Lachlan Coote was also an integral part of North Queensland’s NRL winning season in 2015. With all of this, I can’t see Saints being overcome by the Wembley experience.
What a season Jonny Lomax is having. The England international is probably in the form of his life as he prepares for his first domestic final since 2011, having missed out on the 2014 Grand Final through injury. If the Steve Prescott Man of Steel was based on players voting like previous seasons, I have no doubt he would be picking up the accolade. His running game and his ability to shrug off tackles can scare the life out of opposition players. This year, he has struck up an outstanding partnership with Theo Fages. Their partnership is far superior to Blake Austin and Dec Patton’s and will be one of the reasons why James Roby will be picking up the trophy on Saturday.
Putting last year behind them
Similarly to this year, St Helens were runaway leaders in 2018 and were looking to complete a treble. Their Cup semi-final defeat to eventual winners Catalans Dragons caused their season to capitulate as their form declined during the business end of the season. They ended up losing their play-off semi to Warrington and ended the season with only the League Leader’s Shield. Justin Holbrook brought in three experienced heads in Lachlan Coote, Joseph Paulo and Kevin Naiqama and identified them as the final pieces in the jigsaw. Saints will be determined to right the wrongs of last season, starting with winning the Challenge Cup.
It will not only be the players to determined to put last season behind them. Holbrook has become a massive favourite with the Saints faithful and it will be a sorry sight when he leaves to coach Gold Coast in the NRL next season. In 2017, the Australian took a Saints team who were looking at an appearance in the Middle Eights while playing dour one man rugby. He brought a more expansive game while giving the chance for St Helens fans to see a genuine superstar in Ben Barba. Saints ended being just 60 seconds away from a Grand Final appearance. Another trophy-less season would mean that Holbrook’s time at Saints would only be classed as a failure. The likes of Eamonn McManus, Mike Rush, the players and all the fans would like to give Justin Holbrook a parting gift.