''More Intense Than The Derby'' - Challenge Cup Gears Up For Unique Triple-Header

Elland Road plays host to three of the biggest games on the calendar on Saturday
15:52, 04 May 2022

Rugby league heads en masse to Elland Road this weekend as its unique Betfred Challenge Cup triple-header is played out in front of full crowds again for the first time in three years.

The occasion sees the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup final between Leeds Rhinos and St Helens precede the semi-finals of the men’s event, in which reigning champions St Helens face local rivals Wigan Warriors and the Huddersfield Giants meet Hull Kingston Rovers.

All three matches take place on Saturday at Leeds United’s stadium, and some of the key faces of the sport have told this week edition of The Sportsman’s ‘The Last Tackle’ show just how special the occasion is going to be.

“It’s a massive occasion for all the players and just a great day for women’s rugby league,” the Rhinos’ head coach Lois Forsell explains of the afternoon's opening fixture. “The fact that young girls can tune in on the BBC and watch the game, the fact that it’s at such a big stadium and a lot of young girls that watch rugby league might never have come to Elland Road, for them to come and watch a game at Elland Road alongside a men’s semi-final just shows where the game’s going.

“The support for Betfred, RFL, the BBC, all those people who are supporting it just to make sure that it’s more accessible is really, really good.”

Saints skipper Jodie Cunningham says her side have an added incentive this year as they look to hold on to one of the three trophies they won in 2021.

“I don’t know whether you get used to it! Last year was our first experience of silverware and now we just don’t want to let go of it,” she tells The Last Tackle. “We’re just excited really, and the build-up in the week is always the best time, everyone’s excited, everyone’s focused on the weekend and I can’t wait.

“I was here a couple of years back watching England play New Zealand in a Test game and I never once dreamed that I would have the opportunity to walk out here to play for Saints, so it’s another step up again for the women’s game to play in such a big stadium. That additional space will help us, we’ve got some speedsters in the Saints team, so hopefully we’ll make use of this big pitch.”

LEEDS 7/2 TO WIN WOMEN'S FINAL - BETFRED*

The most anticipated fixture of the day is arguably the derby clash between St Helens and Wigan, and Warriors back-rower Liam Farrell says there’s no playing down the importance of the match-up.

“I never really thought Wigan-Saints derbies could get that much bigger. Good Friday is an intense game, but when you add the spice of a Challenge Cup semi-final then the intensity goes up a few notches again and it’s one I’m really looking forward to,” says Farrell.

“I thought for the first half we were in the game and were probably winning the arm wrestle, but we just let ourselves down in the second half. But we’ll take things out of that game where we can get better and try to implement them on Saturday. Since then we’ve been improving week-in, week-out.

Having done the league and cup double last season, St Helens’ men come into the semi-final with a big target on their backs but star forward Morgan Knowles insists that they are under no more scrutiny than other teams will apply to themselves.

“There is that bit of pressure on us, but that pressure is earned from how we’ve performed,” says Knowles. “It’s no more than the pressure any other team will be putting on themselves, Wigan are a great club and their fans will be expecting silverware this year as are Saints.”

The outsiders for the May 28 final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will come from the second semi-final between Hull KR and Huddersfield, with Rovers boss Tony Smith looking for his side to go one better than their last-four finish in the Super League play-offs last term.

“For us as a club it was a good lesson – a hard lesson – and it was a bit of an accomplishment, but we want to go further,” he says of the 28-10 defeat to Catalans Dragons last September.

“It’s nice that we’re involved in another semi-final, and one closer to home, and I’m sure they’ll turn out in droves. They always follow us, and they’re brilliant supporters. Hopefully we’ll give them plenty to cheer about, but they’ll also lift us as well and we understand that and appreciate it.”

But opposite number Ian Watson has his own motivations for taking the Giants to north London in three weeks’ time, having twice fallen just short of glory with Salford Red Devils before heading across the Pennines ahead of the 2021 season.

“It’s not so much for myself, it’s for the club and the players. I like players to achieve things, and I will try to keep standards high. But you look at Huddersfield, and even at Salford, we were starved of success a little bit. We had a taste of success by getting to a Grand Final and Challenge Cup final, but we didn’t win them. The important thing is winning them and hopefully that is something we can rectify here at Huddersfield.

“It’s reward for the amount of effort the boys have put in this year. We’ve spoken a lot about how we want to build Huddersfield, and we want to be in these big games consistently going forward. It’s a part of us as a group that we understand where we want to go and what we want to achieve going forward.”

The Last Tackle premieres on The Sportsman’s Rugby League YouTube channel on Wednesday at 6pm.

HULL KR 7/5 TO BEAT HUDDERSFIELD - BETFRED*

*18+ | BeGambleAware

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