Up for the Cup: Semi Finals
This year's Powergen Challenge Cup has thrown up many upsets along what started out as the road to Wembley but ended up as the road to Twickenham. That given we should hardly be surprised to see a team from the relative obscurity of engage Super League mid-table reaching the prestigious final.
Huddersfield Giants are the team of the moment, having seen off Leeds Rhinos at Gratton Stadium yesterday to book their place at the biggest club game of the domestic season. And the Giants will have very confidence of going on to lift the famous old trophy having beaten the other finalists, St Helens, in the league earlier in the year.
The Saints had a less tumultuous route through the semis, palming off LHF National League One leaders Hull Kingston Rovers with a 50-0 drubbing. The Robins will now have to lick their wounds and continue the fight for inclusion in the top flight.
In many ways this year's semi-finals were a repeat of what happened twelve months ago, only with a different cast. Last year it was Hull FC who played the part of a “lesser” Super League team who shocked everyone by reaching the final. And it was St Helens who were the top two side whose complacency allowed that side to make their way through.
Last year Toulouse Olympique were the plucky non-Super League outfit that overcame top flight opposition in the quarter finals to book their place in the semis. And Leeds were the top two side who the underdogs had really no hope of toppling.
This time around for Hull read Huddersfield, and for Toulouse read Hull KR, while Saints and Leeds have seemingly undergone a sort of role reversal. All we need for the circle to be completed is for the Giants to defeat St Helens in a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat finale.
Equally coincidentally it was Australian coach Justin Morgan who piloted Toulouse to the semi-finals, this year taking the reigns at Craven Park. And the expectation was that Morgan's side would again show what they were made of when they met St Helens at the Galpharm Stadium.
However, despite a spirited opening, three chances from Tommy Gallagher – a hero for the French side the previous year – came to nought and the Robins were left scoreless at the end of eighty minutes. The Saints were simply in no mood to let their chance of a cup final place slip for a second year and dished out a masterclass in rugby league football.
With all the attention given to the opening semi final it was hardly surprising that Huddersfield saw their chance to sneak into the final in their less anticipated clash with Leeds. Although, in retrospect, we can all see that the Giants posed a much better likelihood of causing an upset than Rovers.
Chris Nero and Stuart Donlan scored for Huddersfield with Scott Donald and Willie Poching touching down for the Rhinos in what was a tit for tat first period. Nero and Donlan repeated the feat after the interval with Leeds this time unable to respond. A late try from Michael De Vere, who also kicked five goals, wrapped the game up.
It is a mere two years since St Helens were at the Challenge Cup final – in fact they have made it four times in six years. By contrast this is the first time that Huddersfield will contest the cup final since 1962, when they lost 12-6 to Wakefield Trinity.
Now all roads lead to Twickenham for British rugby league's showpiece. The Saints will be overwhelming favourites, but wouldn't it be typical rugby league to see the trophy lifted aloft by Huddersfield at the end of a journey that started out in January with thirty two non-league, university and works teams all hoping for a piece of the greatest club competition in the game?