Warrington Wolves made a mockery of the form book to pull off a stunning 18-4 win over runaway Betfred Super League leaders St Helens in the 118th Coral Challenge Cup final. Here’s our verdict…
When Hicks did call on video referee Ben Thaler for assistance, checking a potential try to centre Mark Percival on 23 minutes, the decision went against Saints and two minutes later Warrington clinched the first try of the game.
Substitute Joe Philbin, who scored the decisive try in his side’s 22-14 semi-final win over Hull FC, took the ball as first receiver from the outstanding Daryl Clark and powered his way to the line for the opening try.
Saints had barely recovered from that blow when they were dealt another, second-rower Ben Murdoch-Masila proving unstoppable after taking Jack Hughes’ pass close to the line.
That followed an uncharacteristic handling error near his own line by Coote, who had been prominent in his team’s encouraging start to the match.
Stefan Ratchford added both conversions as the Wolves led 12-0 at the break and it might have been more as winger Tom Lineham tried to force his way over from dummy half early in the second half only to concede a penalty for obstruction.
His opposite number Tommy Makinson was also denied after slow-motion replays showed he lost the ball in Bryson Goodwin’s last-ditch tackle, which perfectly illustrated Warrington’s effective scrambling defence.
They finally cracked on 55 minutes when, following a spell of sustained pressure, Theo Fages weaved his way to the line for Saints’ first try, although Coote missed the easy conversion attempt which summed up his day and left his side still trailing by two scores.
Warrington never looked like relinquishing their grip and they made sure of the victory when man of the match Clark burrowed his way over for their third try nine minutes from the end and Dec Patton added the conversion.
The Drought is Over
Wolves coach Steve Price called Saints the biggest favourites in Challenge Cup history after losing to them in all three league meetings this year and going into Wembley on the back of five straight league defeats.
But Price’s men rose superbly to the occasion to receive the trophy – from Prince Harry – for the first time since 2012 in the first ever meeting between the two neighbours in a major final.
Wasn’t Meant To Be
Lachlan Coote, Morgan Knowles and Alex Walmsley had been wrapped in cotton wool in the build-up to Saints’ first Cup final for 11 years and they all came up with unforced handling errors in the first half, which was played in searing heat.
It might have been different had referee Robert Hicks referred an early score from Knowles to the video referee because slow-motion replays, later displayed on the big screen, suggested it should have been a try.
Against The Script
Warrington might have been without influential playmaker Blake Austin but his team-mates were battle-hardened – in contrast to their opponents, whose big names might have been rested but were also distinctly rusty.
Price started with England second-rower Ben Currie at stand-off in the absence of Austin and he was at the heart of a superb defensive effort which stunted the attack of their free-scoring opponents.
A Grand Day Out
Despite Saints not playing the consistent, dominating footy they play in Super League. The day was a spectacle to behold as the Challenge Cup brought the community together once again.
There were fans from Batley, Hull, Wigan and many more, it made up 60,000 rugby league supporters in total and possibly millions attending the television screens.
Warrington + 18
Tries: Philbin (26), Murdoch-Masila (33), Clark (72)
Goals: Ratchford (2), Patton (1)
Drop Goals: n/a
Saints + 04
Tries: Fages (56)
Drop Goals: n/a
Warrington: Stefan Ratchford, Tom Lineham, Bryson Goodwin, Toby King, Josh Charnley, Ben Currie, Declan Patton, Chris Hill, Daryl Clark, Mike Cooper, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Jack Hughes, Jason Clark.
Interchanges: Joe Philbin, Sitaleki Akauola, Jake Mamo, Matt Davis
Saints: Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Dominique Peyroux, Morgan Knowles.
Interchanges: Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Kyle Amor, Jack Ashworth, Joseph Paulo