Challenge Cup semi-final preview – Leeds Rhinos vs St Helens

This weekend marks the semi-final stage of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup and Friday nights fixture see’s 12 time champions St Helens face off against current holders Leeds Rhinos at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium.

Leeds won the trophy last season
Leeds won the trophy last season

Leeds have earned victories over Huddersfield and Hull FC to make this years semi-finals. Whilst opponents St Helens have defeated York City Knights and Widnes Vikings in round 4 and 5 both at Langtree Park.

The Rhinos will be without forward Stevie Ward who is out with an ankle injury however Joel Moon is returning in time for the tie after suffering a similar injury.

As for Saints they have no major injury problems and hooker James Roby is set to return to the squad, likely replacing Lewis Charnock.

Keiran Cunningham’s St Helens side come into the game in good form only losing one of their last five fixtures however this was a 46-18 defeat to Leeds Rhinos at the start of July. Narrow victories over Huddersfield and Warrington were followed up with a hefty win over Hull KR last weekend. This result meant that Saints would finish 2nd in the Super League ahead of the super eights behind their Challenge Cup opponents Leeds Rhinos.

The Yorkshiremen are also in terrific form having only suffered one defeat in their last six outings, a tight game against Wigan three weeks ago. However they have had brilliant back-to-back victories at Headingley towards the end of the regular season as they beat Catalans last weekend, this after a huge 70-6 victory over Salford a week earlier.

Both coaches made their intentions clear this week as well emphasising the prestige of the Challenge Cup and playing at Wembley to the BBC.

Cunningham said: “Everybody dreams of Wembley, anyone associated with Rugby League dreams of it.”

Whilst Leeds coach Brian McDermott said: “We have got a desire to get back to Wembley and hold on to the Challenge Cup.”

Possible line-ups

Leeds: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Aiton, Peacock, Ablett, Delaney, Cuthbertson.

Interchanges: Burrow, Jones-Buchanan, Singleton, Handley.

Saints: Turner, Jones, Swift, Percival, Thompson, Burns, Walsh, Masoe, Roby, Amor, Vea, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Walmsley.

Interchanges: Flanagan, Richards, Greenwood, Savelio.

Referee: Ben Thaler

With Kallum Watkins set to start in the centres there is no doubting who the danger man for the Leeds Rhinos is. Watkins has had a sensational season for the Super League table toppers and will definitely be in contention for the man of steel award come October. The England international currently sits on 13 tries whilst also assisting 9 tries and he will certainly fancy his chances against Mark Percival or Luke Thompson. In addition Tom Briscoe has been in sizzling form on the wing as of late and the Saints back line will have a difficult afternoon trying to keep the England hopeful quiet.

Leeds Rhinos also have experience on their side with prop-forward Jamie Peacock featuring in his 10th Challenge Cup semi-final while captain Kevin Sinfield can go one better as he plays in his 11th semi-final. This fixture could be the last ever Challenge Cup tie for both men. The experience continues throughout the Leeds side with the likes of Ryan Hall, Kylie Leuluai, Carl Ablett, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Rob Burrow all set to feature.

Saints do have some attacking prowess out wide as well with Tommy Makinson and Adam Swift on 13 and 12 tries respectively this season. It’s obvious that the Saints will look to get the ball out wide early on in order to capatalize on owning two of the best finishers in the game. Whilst Leeds’ have experience in the pack Saints win on sheer size with the likes of Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Kyle Amor and of course the monstrous Mose Masoe.

Roby could hold the key for Saints
Roby could hold the key for Saints

However a Saints victory definitely lies in the trio of Luke Walsh, Travis Burns and James Roby who are the catalyst behind everything that the side does. Roby has dipped in and out of form when he hasn’t been injured but if he plays well there’s no limits to what the hooker can pull off when he scoots from behind the play-the-ball. Walsh and Burns will need to combine well in order to penetrate the Leeds defence.

Last 5 meetings

  • Leeds Rhinos 46-18 St Helens – Headingley
  • St Helens 16-41 Leeds Rhinos – Langtree Park
  • Leeds Rhinos 12-13 St Helens – Headingley
  • Leeds Rhinos 32-12 St Helens – Headingley
  • St Helens 14-10 Leeds Rhinos – Langtree Park

As mentioned both sides come into the game in similar form however Leeds have the edge in the head-to-head winning three of the last four meetings between the sides. Every time Leeds have beaten Saints in their last five meetings it has been a relatively comfortable victory especially in their two meetings this season. On both occasions Leeds have hit the 40+ mark and they are the only side that Saints have failed to beat this season.

Leeds vs St Helens fixtures never fail to satisfy the audience and I can’t see this game disappointing either. Personally I see the fixture being tight throughout the majority of the game but Leeds’ experience will come into play late on and see them put some points on the board late on. Also I feel Saints may head into the game with fears of suffering a third hammering of the season to the Rhinos.

Prediction: Leeds Rhinos 36-12 St Helens

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