The Challenge Cup quarter-finals have been and gone for another year. They were four outstanding games of rugby league as the race to Wembley heated up. We learnt a lot more about all eight teams competing. But what were the major talking points from this weekend’s rugby?
1. Wigan not a wet weather team
There’s no doubt in my mind that Wigan are a brilliant team. They went toe-to-toe with a top class St Helens side in last year’s Grand Final and I’d be surprised if they didn’t finish in the top two at the end of this season. That said, it’s clear that they need a more effective approach in wet conditions. The Warriors were out played in the wet in last year’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Leeds and it was a similar story yesterday as Hull battered the Warriors.
2. Hull FC could be the real deal by the end of 2021
I’m not saying Hull are the real deal just yet. However, they seem to be on their way to being so by the end of this year. Their win over Wigan showed their pragmatism and willingness to adapt to the conditions. They’ve played some nice rugby this season but yesterday we saw how physical they can be. It was a real champion showing from the Black and Whites. With Adam Swift excelling at fullback it also pointed to their squad depth. Not only do I fancy them to cause St Helens problems in the semi-finals, I also think they have a good chance of getting to Old Trafford at the end of the season.
3. Paul McShane is the man
Right now no player is as important to their side as Paul McShane. The former Leeds hooker was a cut above the rest yesterday. Had he not played the Tigers could’ve lost. The Man of Steel came up with big play after big play including the charge down that led to the winning point. Castleford simply have to keep him if they want to remain competitive.
4. St Helens still winning but not playing well
The Saints haven’t yet been at their best in 2021. Their usual fluidity in attack has disappeared and they’re relying on stern defence to get them results. Without Regan Grace on Friday they would’ve likely lost. To end their 13 year wait for the Challenge Cup they’ll have to be much better. However, I fancy them to find a little extra when they take on Hull.
5. Two exciting semi-finals on the horizon
Boy, I’m excited for the Challenge Cup semi-finals. St Helens v Hull FC should be a classic affair especially if the Black and Whites continue to improve. They’ll be a tough team to beat and will push St Helens all the way and could very well use their Challenge Cup experience to defeat the Super League Champions. Meanwhile, the other semi-final could be described as the Daryl Powell derby as his current club take on his future team adding an extra layer of intrigue to a mouth watering clash.