Saturday afternoon sees the UK rugby league’s annual trip to the capital for the Challenge Cup Final. This year, St Helens and Warrington will go head-to-head for the very first time in the final of the competition. Here’s everything you need to know about the final.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Saints are unbeaten in August so far, in fact they haven’t lost since July in the last trip to the capital, losing 32-12 to a determined London side. However, for the most part, they have been unstoppable this season. With only three losses in Super League (two to London and one to Catalans back in April), they have dominated the league once again.
The Wolves had not had the best fortunes as of late. Despite their semi-final win against Hull FC, Warrington haven’t won a Super League game since the start of July, beating London 36-6. They have suffered 11 losses in SL in 2019 and sit in a less than comfortable second spot, with Wigan and Hull FC breathing down their necks.
ROUTE TO THE FINAL
Sixth round: 22-16 win v Huddersfield (A)
Quarter-Final: 48-10 win v Wakefield (H)
Semi-Final: 26-2 win v Halfiax (Bolton)
Sixth round: 26-24 win v Wigan (H)
Quater-Final: 28-22 win v Hull KR (A)
Semi-Final: 22-14 win v Hull FC (Bolton)
Head coach Justin Holbrook has a full-strength side to pick from for Wembley. Alex Walmsley, James Roby and Lachlan Coote all return to the squad to add some big game experience. Morgan Knowles is also set to feature after sitting out last week through illness.
Joseph Paulo and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook have both recovered from knocks suffered in last week’s win at Leeds.
Matty Lees misses out after surgery on his abdominal and bowel areas and hooker Aaron Smith is suspended for two matches.
Matty Costello and Joe Batchelor drop out of the Wembley squad.
St Helens 19-man squad: Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Theo Fages, Danny Richardson, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Joseph Paulo, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Morgan Knowles, Kyle Amor, Dom Peyroux, Jack Ashworth, James Bentley, Lachlan Coote.
The biggest news for Wolves fans is that star half-back Blake Austin has been left out of the 19-man squad by coach Steve Price. He has been out with an ankle ligament tear but may recover for match day. Stefan Ratchford was a late call-up to the semi-final squad so it could be a bit of kidology from Warrington.
Josh Charnley and Jack Hughes both return to the squad, with Hughes recovering from a testicular rupture.
Matty Smith is cup-tied following his loan from Catalans and Lama Tasi also drops out of the squad.
Warrington 19-man squad: Stefan Ratchford, Tom Lineham, Bryson Goodwin, Josh Charnley, Chris Hill, Daryl Clark, Mike Cooper, Ben Currie, Jack Hughes, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Jason Clark, Dec Patton, Joe Philbin, Toby King, Sitaleki Akauola, Harvey Livett, Jake Mamo, Matt Davis, Ben Westwood.
HEAD TO HEAD
Surprisingly, these sides have never met in a Challenge Cup Final before. Both sides are covered in Cup final glory, with Saints seeking their 13th win and Warrington their 9th. However, neither side have had the best success in recent years.
Warrington have not lifted the trophy since beating Leeds in 2012 despite appearances in the 2016 and 2018 finals, whereas St Helens haven’t been in the final since their 2008 victory over Hull FC. That win was Saints’ third consecutive final win.
In the three meetings between these two clubs in 2019, Saints have won all three. They already have the League Leader’s Shield and will be wanting to replicate their 2006 season, where they won all three trophies plus the World Club Challenge the following year.
Warrington want redemption for last year, finishing in both finals and losing both. However, they are massive underdogs against the best side in Super League. Cup finals often work in the underdog’s favour so could the Wolves finally be promoted from bridesmaids to brides on Saturday?
James Roby (St Helens) v Daryl Clark (Warrington)
The return of James Roby is probably the key change in the St Helens side. Aaron Smith has done a great job deputising in his place but Roby is the one Saints player who can make the biggest difference in finals rugby. He is the only player still at the club who played in their last Cup Final win in 2008. He knows how to take his game to another level in big games.
Daryl Clark is seen as Roby’s predecessor in the England side, being seven years younger. He has shown he is one of the most consistent players in Super League and this season has stepped up once again. He will be at the Wolves until at least 2023, which is a great coo for the Warrington side. He is a player they should be building the team around. He may need to do some extra work in attack if Blake Austin isn’t passed fit on Saturday.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 24th August
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Referee: Robert Hicks
WHO WILL WIN?
Despite Warrington’s willingness to get over the recent cup hoodoo, I can’t see past a St Helens win. They have key men returning and the stats are all on their side. They have been far superior than any side in Super League this season and they will want to send Justin Holbrook off with as many trophies as possible. If Blake Austin does play, Warrington could definitely stake a chance to win but it all just looks in Saints favour.