5 times teams rested players before the Challenge Cup final and what happened next

Ben Olawumi
Warrington Wolves 2012, Hull KR 2023, Leeds Rhinos 2020

Warrington Wolves (left, 2012), Hull KR (middle, 2023) & Leeds Rhinos (right, 2020) all rested players ahead of the Challenge Cup final

‘Utilising the squad’ or quite simply resting players ahead of a big game is nothing new. When Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors clash in Super League this weekend, both will rotate with one eye on the Challenge Cup final seven days later.

Sam Burgess’ Warrington play hosts at The Halliwell Jones Stadium on Saturday afternoon, and of the two, they’re the ones to rest more players.

Warrington Wolves squad, Wigan Warriors squad
Both Warrington Wolves & Wigan Warriors have rested players ahead of the Challenge Cup final

We’ve slotted the pair’s 21-man squads in a graphic above, and as you’ll note, there’s a heavy use of youth players by the Wolves with up to six of their academy products potentially set for a debut.

Wigan have gone somewhat stronger for Saturday’s clash, there’s no doubt about that, but Matt Peet has still used the opportunity to rest key players Luke Thompson, Liam Farrell & Abbas Miski.

All three of those have been ever-present for the Warriors in Super League so far this season.

As we noted above, rotating players ahead of a big game is nothing new in any team sport.

Below, we’ve taken a look at five times it’s happened previously in Super League prior to a Challenge Cup final with an overview of what happened under the Wembley arch thereafter…

2023: Hull KR

Hull KR, Challenge Cup final 2023
Hull KR players & head coach Willie Peters (left) appear dejected as they watch Leigh Leopards lift the Challenge Cup in 2023

The same thing happened last year when Hull KR made the trip to Wigan the week before the Challenge Cup final. KR threw youngsters in and loaned numerous players in from fellow Super League sides solely for that game at the then-named DW Stadium, including Catalans Dragons’ Cesar Rouge.

Unsurprisingly, the Robins were thumped 64-6, with full-back Jack Walker their only try-scorer on the night. 14 of KR’s 17 at Wembley the following week weren’t involved against Wigan!

Peters’ plan didn’t work out however as they went on to lose out under the arch to Leigh Leopards, with Lachlan Lam unforgettably kicking the winning drop goal in Golden Point extra time following a 16-16 draw in 80 minutes.

In comparison, Leigh saw just four players come into their squad at Wembley who hadn’t been involved the week prior as they beat Leeds Rhinos at Headingley in the league.

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2020: Leeds Rhinos

Richard Agar, Luke Gale, Richie Myler
Then-Leeds Rhinos head coach Richard Agar (left) & Luke Gale (right) lift the Challenge Cup trophy aloft at an empty Wembley in 2020 after their victory in the final against Salford Red Devils while man of the match Richie Myler (right) holds aloft the Lance Todd Trophy

If we could ever forgive rotation wholly, it’d be here when Leeds had to play just four days before the Challenge Cup final during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Rhinos – then headed up by Richard Agar – were thumped 32-6 at Warrington on October 13 when a teenage Sam Walters was their only try-scorer, and they then ran out at Wembley against Salford Red Devils on October 17.

Only one player was involved in both of Leeds’ squads that week in the shape of Adam Cuthbertson, who started in the front row at Warrington and was then used off the bench in the capital.

Agar’s side would lift the Challenge Cup courtesy of Luke Gale’s late drop goal, with their 17-16 win coming behind closed doors. For context, Salford had been beaten at Hull KR four days prior and their turnover at Wembley was also in double figures.

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2015: Leeds Rhinos

Leeds Rhinos Challenge Cup 2015
Leeds Rhinos lift the Challenge Cup in 2015

Spoiler alert: This is the only time on this list a team has won both the game prior to the Challenge Cup final and the final itself, with Leeds victorious against Hull FC in Super League and Hull KR under the arch.

With Brian McDermott at the helm, en-route to the treble, the Rhinos picked up a 36-22 win away at FC during the Super 8s with Rob Burrow getting over the try-line twice.

Only five players were rested by McDermott, those including Joel Moon & Danny McGuire, who both returned at Wembley as Leeds hammered KR 50-0. To this day, that remains the widest margin of victory in a Challenge Cup final.

The Robins had in fact brought eight players back into the fold at Wembley having rested them the week prior in their narrow 12-8 victory away at Widnes Vikings in The Qualifiers.

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2014: Castleford Tigers

Challenge Cup final 2014
Castleford Tigers players look dejected as Leeds Rhinos celebrate a try during the 2014 Challenge Cup final

Leeds were also involved in the 2014 Challenge Cup final, but its opponents Castleford were focusing on. The Tigers were hammered 48-10 at Warrington prior to their trip to the national stadium on a night where James Clare & Oli Holmes got their two tries.

Come the time they got to Wembley, head coach Daryl Powell saw eight players return to the matchday 17, including Michael Shenton, Marc Sneyd & Daryl Clark.

Powell’s side were comfortably beaten 23-10 by Leeds under the arch, trailing 16-4 by half-time.

The Rhinos had been in the capital the week prior as they lost out 40-36 at London Broncos in Super League action. For context, their Wembley squad contained nine different players when compared with that defeat at The Hive.

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2012: Warrington Wolves

Warrington Wolves Challenge Cup 2012
Warrington Wolves lift the Challenge Cup in 2012

Rounding things off, Warrington also faced two consecutive trips to the capital in 2012 with an away game in Super League against London at Twickenham Stoop on the agenda prior to the Challenge Cup final.

Tony Smith’s Wolves were on the wrong end of a whopping 62-18 scoreline against the Broncos, with Richie Myler, Stefan Ratchford & Rhys Williams their three try-scorers. Chris Hill was also sin-binned during that defeat.

The following week at Wembley, Wire made seven changes to their squad for the cup final against Leeds, which they won 35-18 having run away with it in the second half.

Interestingly, the Rhinos made just two changes to their squad upon arrival at the national stadium having lost 38-34 over in Perpignan to Catalans Dragons in Super League the week before.

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