Sheffield Eagles and 7 big Challenge Cup upsets in the Super League era

Drew Darbyshire
Sheffield Eagles 1998 Challenge Cup Alamy

Sheffield Eagles celebrate their Challenge Cup triumph in 1998

Sheffield Eagles are the club that immediately springs to mind whenever someone brings up the conversation of Challenge Cup upsets, and rightly so.

John Kear’s side pulled off one of the biggest (if the not the biggest!) Challenge Cup upset of all-time when his Sheffield side stunned Wigan 17-8 in the 1998 final at Wembley in front of 60,669 people.

The Lance Todd Trophy was won by Mark Aston, who is now the head coach of his beloved Eagles, who are preparing to take on world champions Wigan in the sixth round of the Challenge Cup on Friday night.

Sheffield’s incredible Cup triumph way back in 1998 is probably THE upset that stands out in the minds of pretty much everyone in rugby league, but that got us thinking.. What are the other Cup shocks?

With the prestigious Cup competition having been formed in 1896 – which was won by Batley – it’s physically impossible to list all the upsets that have taken place, so we’ve picked out seven upsets from recent memory that have gone down in the history books.

Bradford Bulls 24-22 Leeds Rhinos (2019, sixth round)

Championship heavyweights Bradford caused an almighty upset back in 2019 when they edged past Super League neighbours and old rivals Leeds at Odsal.

The Bulls haven’t had a lot to shout and cheer about in recent years, so it was a seismic day in their recent history, with Dalton Grant, Jake Webster, Sam Hallas and Mikey Wood getting on the scoresheet that day.

Bradford’s win over the Leeds saw them meet fellow Championship side Halifax in the quarter-finals, where they would fall short to their neighbours 20-16.

This was the last time a lower league side beat Super League opposition in the Challenge Cup.

Huddersfield Giants 24-28 Swinton Lions (fifth round, 2017)

There was a giant-killing (pardon the rubbish pun!) in the fifth round of the Challenge Cup in 2017, Swinton pulling off a 28-24 upset against Super League side Huddersfield.

John Duffy’s Swinton were 10th in the Championship at the time – but a try from Luke Waterworth in the 76th minute sent them through to the sixth round, downing Rick Stone’s Giants.

Swinton went on to host Super League giants Wigan in the sixth round, losing 42-12 against the Warriors in front of a 2,000 strong crowd at Heywood Road.

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Toulouse Olympique 40-24 Widnes Vikings (fourth round, 2005)

This might not sound like an upset these days – but it was back then. Toulouse were a part-time team at the time, with Widnes being a full-time team competing in Super League.

As noted by Dave Woods in his report for The Guardian, the French side were mostly semi-pros, including a police officer at prop, a traffic warden in the back-row, a builder at hooker and a student in the centres.

Toulouse, who were coached by Justin Murphy, emerged 40-24 against a Widnes side featuring Gary Connolly, Richie Myler, Terry O’Connor, Mick Cassidy and Shane Millard.

Toulouse faced Leeds in the semi-finals, going down to a 56-18 defeat.

Hull Kingston Rovers 22-36 Oldham (fifth round, 2016)

Similar to the aforementioned Huddersfield-Swinton tie, Super League side Hull Kingston Rovers were knocked out of the Cup to then Championship outfit Oldham in the fifth round at Craven Park in 2016.

Roughyeds coach Scott Naylor described it as the ‘biggest win since the club reformed’ in 1997, whilst Robins boss James Webster said it was the ‘biggest embarrassment of my career since before I left school’.

Oldham were drawn at home to Warrington Wolves in the sixth round, being on the end of a 70-10 defeat in front of a 2,394 crowd at Bower Fold.

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Salford Red Devils 26-16 Wigan Warriors (fifth round, 1996)

Salford Reds v Wigan Warriors 1996 Alamy

Wigan’s incredible 43-match winning run in the Challenge Cup was ended by Salford in February, 1996.

The Red Devils – then known as the Reds – ended Wigan’s infamous Cup run with a 26-16 win in front of 10,048 people at The Willows. It was the first time the Cherry and Whites had been knocked out of the Cup since losing to Oldham in February 1987, almost nine years previous.

Scott Taylor (2), Scott Martin and David Young scored for Andy Gregory’s Salford side that day, with Steve Blakeley kicking five goals.

The Reds went down to a 46-26 defeat to eventual Cup winners St Helens at home in the quarter-finals.

Featherstone Rovers 23-16 Castleford Tigers (fourth round, 2012)

Part-time Championship side Featherstone claimbed the bragging rights against their full-time Super League neighbours Castleford with a 23-16 victory in front of a 4,165 crowd at Pose Office Road.

Kyle Briggs, Ian Hardman, Tangi Ropati and Greg Worthington scored for Rovers that day, with Liam Finn kicking three goals and a drop goal against a Castleford side featuring Rangi Chase, Daryl Clark, Brett Ferres and Danny Orr.

Featherstone drew Wigan at home in the sixth round, losing 32-16 at home.

Thatto Heath Crusaders 16-14 North Wales Crusaders (fourth round, 2019)

St Helens-based Thatto Heath Crusaders enjoyed a brilliant Cup run in 2019, reaching the fifth round of the competition, being the latest remaining community club in that year’s competition.

Thatto Heath hosted League 1 side North Wales Crusaders at their Close Street home, emerging 16-14 victors on home soil.

Thatto Heath are renowned for having an impressive Open Age side, with many of their junior products having gone on to play Super League, Championship and League 1 over the years.

The Crusaders were drawn at home to Championship side Dewsbury Rams in the fifth round, going down to a 36-10 defeat in front of an estimated crowd of 1,000.

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