Carnegie Challenge Cup Semi-Finals Preview

Two places; four teams. It’s Cup semis weekend, with ‘Wembley’ firmly stuck on the lips of everyone concerned in the rugby league world.nnLeeds v St Helens – Galpharm Stadium, HuddersfieldnnThe stand-out tie of the round is without doubt Leeds’ clash with St Helens on Saturday lunchtime (live on BBC1, kick-off 12:30).nnThe reigning Super League champions, second placed in the table, taking on the holders of the Challenge Cup, top of the table, is the perfect encounter to grace the magic of the Cup.nnLeeds star Danny McGuire is available for selection in Brian McLennan’s squad. The England international stand-off, 25, was found guilty of a high tackle during last weekend’s 39-24 league win at Les Catalans, but has escaped suspension so is free to line up at the Galpharm Stadium.nnKiwi full-back Brent Webb has been named in the 19-man squad, but remains a doubt after missing the win in France with a back injury.nnOther than that, McLennan has no injury problems, while youngsters Simon Worrall and Luke Burgess come into the team who triumphed in Perpignan last week.nnDaniel Anderson has no injury worries, and has been able to name the same squad which beat Wigan 46-12 last weekend, as the Cup holders aim to record their 16th consecutive victory in all competitions.nnIt’s arguably the toughest Cup semi-final to call in years. It really is a 50-50 toss-up between Leeds’ searing pace, skill and movement off the ball against St Helens‘ raw power, aggression and frightening offloading ability.nnThe fact that St Helens are the in-form team in the engage Super League could be crucial, although that really is the only thing separating the two sides.nnHull FC v Wakefield – Keepmoat Stadium, DoncasternnNot quite the glamour tie that is Leeds v St Helens, but definitely one just as hotly-anticipated by the respective sets of fans is Hull FC‘s match-up with Wakefield (live on BBC2, kick-off 15:30).nnTickets sold out within days of coming on sale for this semi, so the neutral rugby league fan needs no reminder of the importance of this fixture, with both clubs knowing the game will either make or break their seasons.nnHull FC know all about the big-game pressure, and lifted the Challenge Cup trophy in 2004. Their famous 25-24 win over Leeds at the Millennium Stadium proved that they are more than capable of turning up on the big stage.nnThe Airlie Birds go into the game on the back of two straight league wins, a 26-18 success at Wakefield a fortnight ago, followed by last weekend’s 44-18 thumping of cross-city rivals Hull KR. That record derby win will have done the Black & Whites’ the world of good.nnIn contrast, John Kear’s Wakefield have lost four on the bounce, and last Sunday’s 24-10 at Bradford made a serious dint in their play-off hopes. This game is fast becoming the turning point of the Wildcats’ season.nnHull coach Richard Agar hasn’t yet named his 19-man squad, but knows he will have to make do without influential props Paul King (foot) and Tommy Cusack (hand), scrum-half Richard Horne (neck), full-back Motu Tony and hooker Toomy Lee (both knee).nnHe will, however, be able to rely on the services of star wingmen Gareth Raynor and Craig Hall (the club’s top try scorer this season), centre Kirk Yeaman and powerful prop Garreth Carvell.nnCarvell missed the derby victory last Sunday with a hip injury, but has been given the all-clear by medics and Agar has announced he will be fit.nnAgar also hope the passport of Aussie half-back James Webster will have arrived in time for him to feature. Former Rovers star Webster, recently snapped up by Agar, failed to appear in the derby victory, but may line up in this one.nnWebster’s fellow Australian Todd Byrne could also make his return from injury, and has been rated 50-50.nnJohn Kear has much less to worry about regarding the treatment table, with wingman Ryan Atkins (leg) and half-back Scott Grix thne only major doubts.nnLike the other semi, this is another that really could go either way. The difference may in fact be off the field, with FC’s support much better known than that of Wakefield.nnOne of the greatest theories in sport is that it’s what’s in the head that matters. A place in a Wembley final is at stake, so no extra motivation is needed.nnWhoever turns up that bit more hungrier on the day will come out on top in this one.nnMy Predictions:nnLeeds v St HelensSt Helens to winnHull FC v Wakefield – Hull FC to win

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