THE TEAMS were whittled from 8 to 4 in a dramatic weekend for the Ladbrokes’ Challenge Cup. All the squads had Wembley in their sights with only two wins between them and a place in the final, but the calibre of opponents by this point in the competition leaves nothing for certain.
First of the matches was Hull KR against Catalans Dragons, and you’d be forgiven for thinking with the teams so close in the Super League that this play-off would be try-for-try to the buzzer. After the first 40 minutes though, Rovers had pulled a 22-point lead out and were dictating play with relative ease.
The Dragons record in England this season leaves a lot to be desired, but the cup can always throw up a surprise, and the visitors’ second half revival was welcomed by their travelling fans. Hull were without their initial fluency and form and in the end only held onto the win by the boot of Josh Mantellato; the scoreboard was balanced four tries a piece. Hull scraped through 32-26 on the merit of their first half dominance, leaving the French side to focus on a top eight league finish.
Hull FC were in action against league leaders Leeds next, and the Rhinos wasted no time securing a spot in the last four. Keeping Hull penned in and pointless for the first half, they added to Joel Moon’s try with two more from Watkins and Hardaker. Consolation came from Jordan Abdull five minutes from the end to get Hull off the mark, and although they may argue the rain made any ball handling lucky at best, the 26-10 result is all Leeds will be looking at as they edge towards a successive cup final.
Saturday saw Warrington take on the last of the remaining Championship sides, Leigh Centurions. The tightest match so far, Leigh were ahead by a slim two point margin at the half, owed to Greg McNally and a blistering run for their third try of the half. Knowing they had to rise to the challenge, Warrington came out swinging for the last 40 minutes. Possession and play were balanced until a slew of tries and conversions that Leigh couldn’t quite keep up with. The best of the Wolves revival and without a doubt the moment of the weekend came from one of Kevin Perry’s tries and some unparalleled acrobatics to secure a 34-24 win.
The last clash pitted St Helens against Widnes, and although the Vikings’ form has been varied they brought a strong performance to the reigning Super League champions. St Helens haven’t made it to Wembley since 2008 despite consistent form and dominating performances, and Widnes were looking to bring yet more heartbreak. After building a small lead going into the break, the visitors rallied and left St Helens down 18-20, scrambling for a try.
The last-ditch efforts of Kyle Amor, Jordan Turner and Mark Percival left the scoreline at 36-20, not befitting the fighting spirit of the Vikings. Keiron Cuningham, St Helens manager, said he was happy to “win ugly” though congratulated Widnes on a fantastic performance. All four teams are now within touching distance of the final, and all with very real chances of lifting the trophy.
Semi-final draws are:
Leeds v St Helens – July 31st
Warrington v Hull KR – August 1st