On Saturday afternoon, Hull FC and Wigan Warriors go head-to-head at Wembley to contest the Challenge Cup Final, to see who will lift the oldest and one of the most prestigious trophies in rugby league.
— NothingButLeague (@NothingButRL) August 25, 2017
Road To Wembley
In the current Challenge Cup format, teams who finish in the top eight at the end of the 23 round season only need to win three games to reach Wembley the following year. That’s exactly how Hull and Wigan made their way to the final this season, with both clubs facing a tricky run despite only needing three wins.
It was all Super League opposition for the Airlie Birds, as they eased past Catalans Dragons before upsetting the League Leaders Castleford Tigers, and finally battling past Leeds Rhinos. Wigan were handed a trip to Swinton Lions which they dealt with comfortably, which was followed up with a dramatic one point win over Warrington Wolves and a hard fought victory over Salford Red Devils.
Round six: Hull FC 62-0 Catalans Dragons, Swinton Lions 12-42 Wigan Warriors
Quarter-final: Hull FC 32-24 Castleford Tigers, Warrington Wolves 26-27 Wigan Warriors
Semi-final: Hull FC 43-24 Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors 27-14 Salford Red Devils
Previous Meetings this season
If you take into account the two meetings of these two sides from this season, then the advantage lies with the black and whites. Lee Radford’s men have won on both occasions in 2017, with a meeting in the Super 8’s still to come.
Back in round six a dominant first half was enough for Hull to claim victory, but they had to survive a Wigan comeback in the second 40. The away side led 22-0 before the Warriors fought back to within two points, but that’s as close as they got with the game ending 22-20.
In round 17 the difference was FC’s accuracy off the kicking tee, as both teams ran in six tries each but Wigan could only convert one. It was Hull’s first home win over their Challenge Cup Final opponents since 2009, as they claimed in a thrilling 39-26 triumph to complete a home and away double.
Last Time Out
As far as pre-final form goes, these sides couldn’t be any further apart following their last outings in the Super 8’s. Hull missed a chance to strengthen their grip on a place in the top four with a humbling at home to Huddersfield Giants, as the visitors picked up a 46-18 win at the KCOM Stadium. Their was a similar score line at the AJ Bell Stadium, as Wigan romped to a 42-6 victory to go within a point of Wakefield Trinity in fourth, and flex their muscles ahead of Saturday’s final.
This game can be won anywhere, as their is a plethora of talent on show for both sides. Hull’s strength can come from their back line, as Mahe Fonua, Carlos Tuimavave, Josh Griffin and Fetuli Talanoa can wreak havoc on the edges with their pace and power. The men they are facing up to have the ability to score impossible tries out of nothing, as Joe Burgess, Oliver Gildart, Anthony Gelling and Liam Marshall are liking to line-up on the edges.
The forward pack will be just as influential though, as their is a lot of size and strength in black and white, and in cherry and white. The backrowers could be the game winners though, as Gareth Ellis goes in search of a fairytale ending to his career. Mark Minichiello will play a big role at second row too, with the Australian looking for back-to-back Wembley triumphs too. John Bateman and Liam Farrell will be up to the test though, along with skipper Sean O’Loughlin, making it and intriguing battle.
Lance Todd Trophy
Hull could have only the second player to retain the Challenge Cup final man of the match award in their ranks, as Marc Sneyd looks to emulate Paul Wellens. Albert Kelly is also one to watch in terms of potential Lance Todd winners, as he could provide a game-winning moment with his off-the-cuff brilliance. It would be more fitting though if Ellis scooped the award in his final Wembley appearance, rounding off a fantastic career. Another notable mention has to go to man of steel Danny Houghton, will he pull off another game winning tackle?
For Wigan, their most likely candidate could be George Williams, as the halfback’s game management and ability to take on the line could be the difference. Farrell is always in the discussion too, with the second rower’s work rate second to none, and it won’t be a surprise to see him close to the top of the individual tackle count. If the service is given to Burgess, then we could see the wide man given man of the match, as he is bound to chip in with a sensational finish or two. Sam Tomkins has never lost a final for Wigan, and he could also have a big say on the outcome of the game.
Are Hull going back-to-back, or will Wigan spoil Ellis’ party? That’s the question on everyone’s lips, and for me it could be decided with the flip of a coin, that’s how close this could be. Wigan have form on their side following last week’s demolition of Salford, but for me Hull just edge this one. Their performance against Castleford in the quarter-finals was superb, and if they emulate that, then they win. Hull FC by 6, Albert Kelly Lance Todd winner.
Steve Michaels is included by Hull, while captain Gareth Ellis will make his final Wembley appearance before retiring at the end of the season.
Wigan make two changes from the side that beat Salford Red Devils 42-6 in Super League on 18 August.
Tom Davies and Joel Tomkins come into Shaun Wane’s 19-man squad in place of Nick Gregson and Jack Wells.
Hull FC 19 man squad: Shaul, Fonua, Tuimavave, Griffin, Talanoa, Kelly, Sneyd, Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Minichiello, Ellis, Connor, Green, Thompson, Washbrook, Michaels, Manu, Bowden.
Wigan Warriors 19 man squad: Bateman, Burgess, Clubb, Davies, Farrell, Gelling, Gildart, Isa, Leuluai, Marshall, McIlorum, Nuuausala, O’Loughlin, Powell, Sutton, Tautai, J Tomkins, S Tomkins, Williams.
Referee: Phil Bentham
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Coverage: BBC One