The Challenge Cup remains one of the greatest accolades in sport and is, behind the Super League Grand Final title, the biggest and most prestigious award in rugby league. This year’s tournament has been one of the best in recent memory, entertaining viewers with some tremendous tackling, phenomenal passing and sensational scores. As the tournament starts to heat up, most of the major teams remain in the competition and will be quietly confident of their chances this season. In fact, the only major shock so far came in the previous round as Hull KR earned an impressive away victory against Wigan Warriors to knock Shaun Wane’s men out of the competition.
Meanwhile, the likes of Warrington Wolves, Leeds Rhinos and St Helens remain firm contenders for the crown, while Catalans Dragons have shown that they are more than capable of beating the best teams in Super League on their day. At the quarter-final stages, anything can happen and it would be foolish to dismiss any of the remaining teams in the competition. With the exception of Leigh Centurions, who have won 14 of their 15 Championship league matches this season, all of the quarter-finalists are Super League clubs and have beaten each other on various occasions – so this year’s tournament really is up for grabs. That is not to say that Leigh should be ruled out, however, and, at the time of writing, betfair are pricing Leigh at a hefty 40/1 to lift the trophy at the end of August. However, it is likely that Warrington Wolves – Leigh’s opponents in the last-eight – will be looking to spoil the party as they hunt a fourth Challenge Cup title since 2009.
Warrington have struggled at times this year
Tony Smith’s side have been inconsistent throughout the opening half of the season, beating Super League leaders Leeds Rhinos twice but losing to Widnes Vikings and Castleford Tigers. Warrington’s problem is clear to see, they have failed to replace the departing Lee Briers and Michael Monaghan. They lack leadership qualities in the middle of the field, especially as captain Joel Monaghan plays out on the wing. In fact, Smith’s side have been one of the most disappointing teams in Super League this year – with many predicting that Warrington could go on to challenge on all three fronts in 2015. There have been too many interviews, such as the one below, where the head coach has been left discouraged by his team’s display.
Warrington Wolves head coach Tony Smith reflects on disappointing night at Widnes Vikings. http://t.co/wevef8IDgY
— Warrington Sport (@WG_Sport) April 2, 2015
Although they sit fifth in the Super League table, they are just two points ahead of eighth-placed Catalans Dragons and are in serious danger of missing out on the playoffs this year. They must ensure that they improve their performances if they are to compete with the best teams in Super League as the playoffs draw ever closer. In terms of the Challenge Cup, Warrington earned a 52-10 victory over Dewsbury Rams in the sixth round to reach the quarter-final stage. The Wolves have performed admirably in this competition under Smith, but they will have to improve if they are to avoid a shock home defeat against local rivals Leigh Centurions later this month. Although the Championship side have been excellent this year – beating Wakefield Wildcats 36-30 in the last round – the Super League outfit should be good enough to advance to the semi-finals.
Leeds Rhinos are looking strong in 2015
The Super League leaders have tailed off slightly after a phenomenal start, but they remain one of the best teams in the world and stand a great chance of reaching the latter stages of rugby league’s famous tournament. With the experienced Kevin Sinfield, Danny Maguire and Rob Burrow pulling the strings, Leeds have talent in abundance and have the players to hurt opposing teams from almost anywhere on the pitch. The Rhinos have already shown that they can beat Super League’s top teams on multiple occasions this season and will be targeting a clean sweep of trophies as the business end of the campaign approaches.
Brian McDermott’s squad remain a point clear of second-placed St Helens in the Super League table, despite a disappointing run of form in recent months. The Rhinos have won just two of their last six league matches and have seen their lead at the top of the table cut, but Leeds remain positive of their chances this season and arguably possess the greatest squad in Super League. They play a unique brand of attacking rugby and their style has seen them score the most tries in the top flight this season – touching down 94 times in their opening 17 matches.
In the modern era, Leeds have struggled to win the Challenge Cup. The Rhinos have featured in four of the last five finals but only got their hands on the crown last year after a 23-10 victory over Castleford Tigers. Their recent record in the tournament won’t play on their mind just yet, but it could affect their preparation if they manage to earn yet another trip to Wembley this season. However, their supporters are certainly enthusiastic about the possibly of another victory in this year’s final!
St. Helens remain one of the leading candidates for the competition
Keiron Cunningham’s side are arguably the greatest team in Super League at the moment and will fancy their chances of winning the Challenge Cup for the 13th time in their history, but for the first time since beating Hull 28-16 in the 2008 final. The Saints have won six of their last seven matches in all competitions – including a Magic Weekend victory over near rivals Warrington Wolves in May – and are playing some sensational rugby.
Although they have struggled to win this competition in recent years, St. Helens have always been successful but have fared better in Super League – winning last year’s Grand Final against old enemy Wigan Warriors. This season, the Saints look well placed to challenge on both fronts and it would take a brave man to back against Cunningham’s side as the business end of the season approaches. Highlights of last season’s success over Wigan in the Grand Final can be seen below.
With the likes of Tommy Makinson, Jordan Turner, Jonny Lomax and Luke Walsh in their talented squad, they obtain one of the best attacking units in Super League but have also shown that they are more than capable of producing immense defensive displays. In fact, other than the Huddersfield Giants, the Saints have conceded the lowest total of points in Super League – a deserving statistic for their improved defensive capabilities. Their attacking prowess, along with resilience in defence, could see them reach the showpiece event of the competition and many will be backing Saints to go all the way and lift the trophy in August.