Ranking the 5 greatest Challenge Cup finals of the modern era including St Helens classic

Louis Chapman Coombe
Leigh Leopards lift the Challenge Cup - 2023

Josh Charnley and his Leigh Leopards team-mates lift the Challenge Cup at Wembley in August 2023

The Challenge Cup final is always one of the most hotly anticipated games in the rugby league calendar. 

Since it’s inception in 1896, it has become one of the most coveted prizes in British sport, and it has a unique history with Wembley too.

The first Wembley final took place in 1928, as Wigan defeated Dewsbury, and it has since been held there on 80 occasions since; including 16 since the redevelopment.

But with so many finals to look back on, which should stick in our minds? Here are our selection for the five greatest Wembley finals of the modern era.

5. 2015 – Leeds Rhinos 50-0 Hull KR

Tom Briscoe. Leeds Rhinos 50 v. Hull KR 0 – Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final – 29th August 2015

Sorry Hull KR fans, you make the list for all the wrong reasons. Leeds Rhinos came into the 2015 Challenge Cup looking for their second successive title, and they certainly delivered on the day.

Tom Briscoe cemented himself into Wembley folklore with a five-try haul, but this just rounded off a dominant attacking show for the Rhinos, as they put KR to the sword. This win was also part of Leeds’ historic treble in 2015.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know on Challenge Cup finals day including kick-off times, broadcast information

4. 2018 – Catalans Dragons 20-14 Warrington Wolves

Catalans Dragons, Steve McNamara lift Challenge Cup in 2018
Catalans Dragons boss Steve McNamara lifts the Challenge Cup with his players in 2018 – Alamy

It might not have been the most glamourous final, however the importance of it is why it makes this list. Catalans had only been in the English leagues for 12 years at this point, but with their 2007 Challenge Cup final aside, they had had a tough time of it.

The introduction of Steve McNamara in 2017, however, changed the fortunes of the club; and this Challenge Cup triumph in 2018 marked their arrival onto the top table of rugby league. It was also the first time a French side had won the historic trophy too.

READ NEXT: Ranking the 7 greatest tries in Challenge Cup final history: Wigan Warriors, Bradford Bulls and St Helens included

3. 2023 – Leigh Leopards 17-16 Hull KR (AGP)

John Asiata lifts the Challenge Cup trophy.
Leigh Leopards captain John Asiata lifts the trophy after winning the Challenge Cup final at Wembley

Let’s include the most recent one too, shall we? The narrative surrounding Leigh Leopards win, coupled with the dramatic finish, is why this game makes our list.

The Leopards had only been promoted to Super League that season, however their journey to Wembley proved they were up there with the best teams in the country.

The final itself was gripping, with Hull KR snatching a late try to take it to golden point (the first time a cup final had ended as a draw since 1982), however Lachlan Lam’s late drop-goal ensured Leigh lifted their first Challenge Cup since 1971.

READ NEXT: Ranking the 7 greatest tries in Challenge Cup final history

2. 1996 – St Helens 40-32 Bradford Bulls

St Helens Super League and Challenge Cup winners 1996 Alamy
St Helens win inaugural Super League Championship in 1996 – Alamy

The 1996 Challenge Cup final was one of, if not the best, cup finals of all time. A game encapsulated by two of the greatest cup final tries of all time from Steve Prescott and Robbie Hunter-Paul, this game had everything.

The game was an exciting, end-to-end contest throughout, and saw two big comebacks from either side. St Helens led 8-0 at one point, before Bradford raced into a 26-12 lead. St Helens didn’t go down without a fight though, and clawed their way back to lift the title in dramatic fashion.

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1. 1998 Sheffield Eagles 17-8 Wigan Warriors

Sheffield Eagles
John Kear’s Sheffield Eagles lift the Challenge Cup in 1998

The biggest shock in Challenge Cup history? The ultimate David vs Goliath clash took place in the 1998, as Sheffield faced Wigan.

The Eagles had only been formed 14 years previously, whereas the Warriors had just had a run of eight Challenge Cup titles in a row, and were searching for their ninth in 11 years. Inspired by the likes of Keith Senior and current Eagles head coach Mark Aston, they defied the odds to secure their first ever Challenge Cup title.

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