Archive for the ‘Challenge Cup’ Category

Challenge Cup Final 2009: A Photo Essay

August 30, 2009

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In the end, it wasn’t as close or as tight as I thought it would be. It certainly wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. Everything about the day was enjoyable, except for the second half when it became abundantly clear that the Huddersfield Giants simply didn’t have what it took to beat a Warrington Wolves side that was a defensive juggernaut on the day. The speed and swarm that Wire possessed in defense turned practically every pass the Giants made into a hospital pass. On top of that, Lee Briers and Michael Monaghan played a vital role in producing one of the Wolves’ most composed performances of the year, and with about twenty minutes to go it became quite clear that the Wolves were entering shutdown mode, a move they played almost to perfection. 

It was a frantic start to the game as Brett Hodgson’s kick was charged down by Louis Anderson, which led to Richie Mathers opening the scoring. From the stands it seemed like Louis had knocked on in the process of picking up the ball, but looking at the TV replay it seems it was either his toe or a funny bounce that made it look that way. The Giants hit back when Shaun Lunt finished off a rather nice team move, but only after he had been denied by the video ref in one of a few calls that the people I was sitting with in the stadium thought were dubious (and the replay ddin’t make think it was any better of a call either). 

Warrington replying with two quick tries to Michael Monaghan and Chris Hicks, followed by the second disallowed try that the Giants thought they had scored (David Hodson’s finish wiped off due to obstruction) seemed to kill off the game for me. From that point onwards Huddersfield fell apart. The second half in particular saw them drop an outrageous amount of ball in key positions early in the tackle count. It’s debatable how much this even mattered though because whenever the Giants did hold onto the ball, all they did was run sideways and pass to a stationary man. This made it easier for a Warrington side who had brought their A-game defensively anyway, and meant that the second half turned into a rather dour battle. Warrington had shown touches of invention and class in the first half but (understandably) resorted to a more conservative gameplan in the second half. Although Vinnie Anderson and David Hodgson both got on the scoresheet, the second half was clearly never going to turn into a shootout, and as it became clear that the Giants didn’t have what it took it undermined the drama somewhat.

Were Huddersfield affected by the debatable video ref calls? Maybe. If they were, then it’s their own fault they lost because they should have just got on with it. I was really disappointed by the Giants because they’ve been a top team all year, and for them to flop so hard on the biggest stage yet was disappointing. Even so, they’re still top contenders to reach Old Trafford at this stage, so hopefully for them they’ll learn from this experience. 

Conversely, Warrington were a revelation. I knew they could muscle up as well as anyone, and I knew they were capable of fantastic attacking play, but I never expected them to be so… solid. Apart from Lunt’s two scoring attempts, they never really looked fazed at all, and they followed up conceding with two quick-fire tries. Their defence was brutal and completely choked Hudderfield out of the game. Even if Warrington don’t make the playoffs (and at this stage it looks unlikely) they’ve still won a trophy, and definitely have the foundations to be a challenger next year.

Like for Friday’s game, I took some photos with my camera phone. In fact, I took a lot of photos. See them after the break, and admire the story that they create.

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Challenge Cup Final Preview

August 29, 2009

Did you this is the first final of the Super League era that doesn’t feature one of the Big Four sides? Did you know that this is the first Challenge Cup final sinct 1986 that doesn’t feature either Wigan, St Helens, Leeds or Bradford. We get a game between the Warrington Wolves and the Huddersfield Giants, two sides who have been producing minor classics on their run to Wembley. This has the makings of a very interesting game, with intriguing matchups all over the pitch.

Forwards: Probably the most intriguing matchup of all is a very tasty clash in the middle of the park between two heavyweight packs. Warrington bring the boom big-style with a cannonball front row of Gareth Carvell and Adrian Morley (who has been heroic on the run to Wembley) backed up by a solid back row of Westwood, Louis Anderson and Ben Harrison who has come into his own this season. The Giants have a less big-name pack but their props are all solid units (I’m really hoping for a Morley – Eorl Crabtree encounter) and if anything their back row is even more dynamic (Stephen Wild needs more recognition). 

Backs: The Giants’ backs are underrated, and Bret Hodgson is clearly the best full back in Super League. Their young players like Leroy Cudjoe have really made an impact this year, and they have canny experience in Paul Whatuira anchoring the backline. The Warrington backline is somewhat of an enigma, running either really hot or really cold (often in the same game). They have clicked fairly often in this competition, though. 

Brains: At last, Lee Briers gets to play at Wembley. Will he excel on the big stage? The key for Warrington will be making sure he doesn’t have to do it all himself. Vinnie Anderson has been named at stand-off but I suspect he’ll alternate with Chris Bridge. Michael Monaghan appears to have found his groove at hooker and I imagine Mickey Higham will have his say off the bench. The Giants have been controlled adeptly by Luke Robinson  and Kevin Brown all year, and Hodson has added a completely new dimension to their attack from the back. 

Form: Both sides have lost their last two games. However, the Giants’ last defeat was essentially a second team narrowly losing at Saints, which is a sort of moral victory. Warrington have seemed deflated in the last two weeks, but it’s possible that they’ve been saving themselves. 

So, who’s going to win? I feel everything favours Huddersfield and I think they should win. But of course no one really knows what’s going to happen on the day and I have this nagging feeling about Wire. I do think that this should be a cracking game and I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Up For The Cup

August 8, 2009

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Is it just me, or does the Challenge Cup semis feel more important this year? It certainly helps that we have two very compelling matchups this year and that there have been many good games this year (including a fantastic double header in the last round). It also helps that all of the four clubs left in the competition are bringing their own intiguing storyline to the competition.

Part of the interest is because the Cup has gone a long way to saving two seasons. For both Warrington and Wigan, the Cup has gone a long way to restoring their years, after both clubs began the year with appalling runs in Super League. Both sides have now turned it around and are pushing for playoff places. Both clubs also had fantastic performances in the Cup earlier this season (Wigan at Wakefield in the Fifth Round, Warrington at Hull KR in the Quarter Finals) that went a long way to showing that these sides have the character for a scrap. It’s interesting that they are playing each other, because these two sides who started off so below expectations now have the chance to make their season against each other.

For the Giants, the winning the Cup would go some way to legitimising their contendership. It’s well known that they have made massive strides this year, and they are currently in third place and keeping the pressure on Leeds in 2nd. Even so, very few people have been talking about them actually making a run in the playoffs and winning Super League. A Challenge Cup victory would show their aptitude for knock-out football and their mettle for big games with trophies at stake, and make them an even more interesting proposition in the playoffs.

For Saints, it’s about keeping up a tradition of victory. Since the start of the Super League era Saints have become the pre-eminent club, and a large part of that is down to their dominance of the Challenge Cup. In particular they have won the last three Finals, and are establishing a new equivalent to the great Wigan run in the late 80s / early 90s. However they have seemed more vulnerable of late, and it is clear that some of their more established names are approaching the end. Saints are the big favourites for this, and they need this win to show that they deserve this attention, and for their big names to show they’ve still got it.

Whoever wins today and tomorrow, I’m just glad that there’s so much attention back on this competition. I just hope the games live up to expectation and set up a fantastic Wembley final. Because this is the only live domestic Rugby League on the BBC, the Challenge Cup serves as a showcase for the sport. When the games are of such high quality and drama, it looks good for the game. So let’s hope the four teams and the three games left do the sport proud.

Hull KR 24 – 25 Warrington

June 1, 2009

For perhaps the first time this season, a post I had written praising a team turned out not to be a curse. It is testament to the resolve of this Warrington side that they managed to overcome both a 10 point deficit and the curse of my praise to come out as victors in a pulsating Challenge Cup clash against Hull KR that was compulsive viewing from start to finish. 

This was a Cup game that had it all: a boisterous crowd,two teams giving it their all, excellent tries and attacking play, rampaging forward play, controversy at the death and a sudden-death finish. Both teams took it in turns to show their stuff and they did not disappoint. When Hull KR pulled ten points clear, I thought that would be too much for Warrington to deal with, but they came back strongly and had they not conceded a late penalty they could’ve won in normal time. 

Warrington essentially won this game because of a greater sense of composure. They worked some nice plays around the ruck and a few out wide, and their forward pack got better and better as the game went on. Special props (excuse the pun) for Adrian Morley, who is playing as well as I’ve seen him for a long time at the minute. He and Gareth Carvell put Lee Briers’ drop-goal opportunities on a plate for him with their surging runs (it was noticeable just how many more chances to win Warrington had in extra time; Briers missed two before he scored, whilst Paul Cooke only had the one effort charged down). 

Warrington seem to start slowly at the minute, but once they get going they’re hard to stop. Morley and Carvell were immense all day (every time Morley got flattened by Makali Aizue, he got straight back up got back down to business). Briers is also back in form and crucially doesn’t appear to be trying to do everything himself. I also feel that Matt King is deserving of a special mention; he’s had his critics over the past eighteen months (and with good reason) but he had an excellent workrate, was threatening off of kicks all game, set up Jon Clarke’s try with a great pass (which was not forward – that was the momentum rule in effect) and scored a potentially messy finish with aplomb. At long last, he might just be finding his feet.

Bt also credit to Hull KR, who were great for most of the game except for their faltering towards the end. They scored some beauties (especially Jake Webster’s rounding off of a fab team effort). Even in defeat they looked good, and are now clearly established as a top side. I’m thinking that Shaun Briscoe might just be finding himself in an England shirt at some point this season. In the end, what really cost KR this game was a lack of composure at the death. However, this is the sort of defeat which will provide a valuable learning expereince ahead of the playoffs.

Alas, for the Robins the Wembley dream is dead. For Wire, it’s more alive than ever. This could be fun…

Doncaster Through / Queens Out

March 12, 2009

The sensible option, in my opinion.

I just hope this isn’t used as an excuse for closure. The RFL are beginning an inquiry on the events at the Keepmoat, so I doubt this is the last we’ll here about this.

Challenge Cup 4th Round Draw Prevents Best Final / Gets Monotonous Repeats of Grand Final Out of Way

March 9, 2009

 

Meh. May as well get the hard stuff out of the way first.

Meh. May as well get the hard stuff out of the way first (Getty Images)

So Super League clubs once again begin their quest for Wembley this year, and for one of the two best sides in the country it’s going to end almost as quickly:

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats v Leigh Centurions
Halifax v Widnes Vikings
Oldham v Lezignan (Fra)
Leeds Rhinos v St Helens
Keighley Cougars v Castleford Tigers
Catalans Dragons v Bradford Bulls
Featherstone v Wath Brow Hornets
Hull FC v Salford City Reds
Doncaster/Queens v Gateshead Thunder
Harlequins RL v Huddersfield 
Barrow Raiders v Wigan
Sheffield Eagles v Dewsbury Rams
Warrington Wolves v York City Knights
Swinton Lions v Rochadale Hornets
Batley Bulldogs v Kells/Hunslet Hawks
Hull KR v Celtic Crusaders

Indeed, there are five all-Super League ties, meaning that the next round could be very interesting indeed. The draw might just open up to allow a Championship club a long run deep into the later stages of the competition. I’m actually quite glad that we’re going to get this Leeds-Saints thing out of the way now because a) it’s going to free up the competition for another team to make a run b) we’ve seen this as the Grand Final for the last two years, so we don’t really need another final with these two and c) it’s probably the best chance of seeing Saints knocked out before Wembley (nothing against Saints, mind, but I’ve seen them in the final for the last three years and I’m in the mood for a change). Wath Brow Hornets might also be fancying their chances against Featherstone after knocking off pro opposition in London Skolars in the last round (although as a Skolars fan even I ddn’t find it that much of a shock). Both Doncaster and Queens are in the draw, because the RFL haven’t made their mind up about how to deal with the abandonment of their game.

Cup Debacle: Doncaster vs Queens called off due to crowd trouble

March 8, 2009

Living and playing the game down south, I obviously don’t have much connection to the BARLA scene. All I really get is to see the results from the NCL and the County leagues occasionally, and to see banter and chit-chat on internet forums. One team I’ve gathered that has a… erm, reputation for intimidatory behaviour is Queens ARLFC, and this was pretty much confirmed to the general public yesterday (it’s made national papers) when their Challenge Cup game at Doncaster was called off after 62 minutes due to crowd trouble. 

All the reports coming out of this imply a combination of under-stewarding, iver-drinking and people seemingly out to cause a ruckus instead of watching a competitive game (the score was 16-12 Donny when the game was called off). There have even been reports of the Queens’ fans attacking youths which if true is disgraceful. A sports photographer was at the game and has unfortunately taken down his picture of the crowd trouble, because as they say a picture paints a thousand words. Still, this RLFans thread gives you a general idea of what went on.

It’s hard to know what to make of this. In terms of Doncaster, I imagine they are given the win and go through (the result of a game usually stands once the clock goes through 60 minutes) but you have to wonder if there will be recrimination from the RFL for poor organization (which would seem harsh as they’re only tenants of the Keepmoat Stadium, who should have organised the stewarding properly). As for Queens, the fact that many eyewitnesses say their players went over and applauded their fans after the game doesn’t bode well at all and with their reputation preceding them you would have to expect a very heavy punishment from the RFL and BARLA. Quite frankly, people who just want to go watch a game of Rugby League don’t need shit like this and if that means banning Queens from any competitions then so be it. Behaviour like this cannot be tolerated at any level of the game, and the RFL and BARLA need to get this message across.

EDIT: Here’s a link to the BBC Local News report on it, complete with rather shocking video footage.