Challenge Cup Final Preview
Challenge Cup Final Preview by Stephen Ratcliffe
The 2006 Challenge Cup started in the cold February weather across the UK with just small amounts of spectators watching the amateur sides. On Saturday afternoon it will come to an end with around 70,000 fans at Twickenham to witness hot favourites St Helens take on massive underdogs Huddersfield Giants.
Saints will not under estimate Huddersfield because they have been beaten by the Giants already this season and after what happened in 1998's final at Wembley. Everybody expected Wigan Warriors to humiliate Sheffield Eagles but they saw a different thing happen, Sheffield won.
Saints go in to the game with just seven players who haven't played in a final before whilst Huddersfield have 15 players new to the final stage.
Huddersfield have already received bad news that Geordie stand-off Chris Thorman will not be risked by Jon Sharp in Saturday's showpiece as he has a groin injury. Leeds' Keith Senior played in last year's final with an injury and left the field at half-time. With Kevin Brown ineligible, Huddersfield will play 19-year-old Tom Hemingway at stand-off.
St Helens' head coach Daniel Anderson has got tough decisions to make too as his squad are all fighting for a place in the final 17.
So, we all expected to be going to watch the first Challenge Cup Final at the new Wembley instead we will be watching the game from the home of English Rugby Union, Twickenham. Twickers as it is known is just a stones throw away from Harlequins RL's home the Stoop. Twickenham has been used before for a Challenge Cup Final back in 2001 when St Helens beat Bradford Bulls in a rain soaked game. Leon Pryce, Paul Anderson and Lee Gilmour were all on the Bulls side that day and will be fighting for a place this year.
There is a lot of links between the Saints and the Giants as Giants' boss and assistant Jon Sharp and Kieron Purtill were both at Saints, prop Keith Mason faces his old side and Paul Anderson will become Giants number two next year.
There should be a special mention to Sean Long as he has won the Lance Todd Trophy in 2001 and 2004 and will be looking to add to his collection. Not forgetting Huddersfield's Robbie Paul who has also won the trophy.
Whatever happens on Saturday it'll be a great day with fans from all over the world travelling to London to see the game. I'm sure it'll be a great game and I hope everyone enjoys the day as much as they have enjoyed reading this.