The 7 most incredible, unforgettable Challenge Cup semi-finals in the modern era

Aaron Bower

With the Challenge Cup semi-finals taking place this weekend, we thought we’d whet your appetite by taking a trip down memory lane.

There’s been some truly incredible, unforgettable, thrilling, pulsating, nail-biting – whatever you want to call it – Challenge Cup semi-finals over the years. We’d be here all day listing all of them, so Love Rugby League has picked out seven personal favourites, starting with a thriller between two of Super League‘s big boys back in 2010..

Leeds Rhinos 32-28 St Helens (2010)

Ryan Hall Leeds Rhinos Alamy

Leeds booked their place at Wembley with a thrilling win over St Helens at what was then known as the Galpharm Stadium in Huddersfield, with 15,267 people in attendance.

Brian McClennan’s Rhinos were 18-8 down at half-time, but edged out the Saints after a final quarter in which the lead changed hands three times. Danny McGuire and Ryan Hall both bagged braces for Leeds that day, with New Zealand international Brent Webb also getting on the scoresheet.

It wasn’t to be for Leeds in the final though, going down to a heavy 30-6 defeat to Warrington at Wembley, with Lee Briers scooping the Lance Todd Trophy.

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Hull FC 16-12 Warrington Wolves (2013)

Daniel Holdsworth Hull FC Alamy

In 2013, Hull FC reached their first final since 2008 after edging past Warrington in a nail-biting contest in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.

The Wire raced into an early lead thanks to tries from Joel Monaghan and Trent Waterhouse, but Hull fought back with efforts from Tom Lineham and Richard Whiting. Aaron Heremaia’s try in the second half gave the Black and Whites some breathing space before the Wolves threatened a comeback after Ben Currie went over, but it was Hull who reached Wembley.

Peter Gentle’s Hull side would lose 16-0 to Wigan in the final at a rain-sodden Wembley, with Shaun Wane’s side doing the double that year.

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Wigan Warriors 12-16 Hull FC (2016)

Danny Houghton Hull FC 2016 Alamy

It was the start of two glorious years for Hull in the Challenge Cup, with the Black and Whites going on to lift it back-to-back in 2016 and 2017.

Steve Michaels and Fetuli Talanoa got on the scoresheet for FC in their 16-12 win over Wigan that day in 2016, with Marc Sneyd kicking four goals, the latter going on to win the Lance Todd Trophy back-to-back.

Hull went on to face Warrington in the final at Wembley, edging out the Wolves 12-10 in front of a 76,235 crowd.

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Salford Red Devils 24-22 Warrington Wolves (2020)

Joey Lussick Salford Red Devils Alamy

We couldn’t leave this one out, could we? Salford stunned Warrington to reach their first Challenge Cup final in 51 years.

The Wire were 14-8 ahead at the break thanks to first half efforts from Toby King and Blake Austin, but tries from Krisnan Inu, James Greenwood and Joey Lussick in the second half saw the Red Devils on their way to Wembley.

It was a shame that fans weren’t able to support their team at Wembley with the final being played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Red Devils losing 17-16 to Leeds under the arch.

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Castleford Tigers 27-33 London Broncos (1999)

Arguably the most incredible Challenge Cup semi-final – perhaps until last year’s dramatics at Headingley. 24 years earlier, Castleford and London played out a sheer thriller in the spring sunshine on the same stadium.

With 10 minutes to go, London led by a solitary point before Michael Eagar’s try put Castleford ahead. Peter Gill then made it 27-26 in favour of the Broncos, who had the likes of Martin Offiah and Shaun Edwards in their side, before a drop goal from Danny Orr made it 27-27.

However, with seconds left, Steele Retchless wrote his name into London folklore with the winning try to send the Broncos to Wembley.

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Hull KR 11-10 Wigan Warriors (2023)

Brad Schneider Hull KR Alamy
Brad Schneider in action for Hull KR

It may have only been this time last year, but there’s no way we could overlook Hull KR‘s dramatic victory against Wigan at Headingley Stadium.

A game which ebbed and flowed seemed to be heading Wigan’s way right up to the latter stages. Despite a red card to Joe Shorrocks, they edged ahead 10-4 before Ethan Ryan’s try and Brad Schneider’s goal levelled the scores, sending the game to golden point extra-time.

Schneider then stepped up and kicked a nerveless drop goal to put the Rovers into the final.

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Leeds Rhinos 33-26 St Helens (2003)

Arguably the day where Leeds’ incredibly talented generation of young, homegrown stars began their journey to greatness. The Rhinos took on defending Super League champions St Helens in an absorbing semi-final at Huddersfield – the third time in a row they had met at this stage.

However, while the Saints won the previous two this time, it would be Daryl Powell’s Leeds who emerged victorious. St Helens looked set to make it three in a row when they led by six going into the final minutes, before Danny McGuire’s try was brilliantly converted by a young Kevin Sinfield to send it to extra-time.

There was no golden point back then, and Leeds moved 27-26 ahead by half-time of extra-time with a Sinfield one-pointer. However, they sealed it when McGuire scored an unforgettable try to book Leeds’ place in the Cardiff final against Bradford.

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