This weekend of rugby was one of the very best I’ve ever seen. On Friday night we were treated to three pulsating and close Super League clashes and then on Saturday Wembley took centre stage. An exhilarating try-fest of a 1895 Cup Final captivated viewers before a sublime Challenge Cup Final between St Helens and Castleford stole the show. But what are the major talking points coming out of the showpiece event as we set our sights on Old Trafford?
1. Challenge Cup Hangover for Saints?
For Saints fans, Saturday was the stuff of dreams. After a difficult year, thousands of Saints supporters were allowed to make the trip to Wembley to see their side end a 13-year wait for Wembley glory as they claimed a 13th Challenge Cup. More importantly, this Saints team has now claimed every major honour in the game. With a wind of change set to rock the Super League Champions in 2022, with the likes of Lachlan Coote and Theo Fages headed out the door, it was a very apt and emotional afternoon for the triumphant Saints. But what now? They’re still quite rightly the favourites to claim Super League glory but the emotion expelled by their stars on Saturday could be hard to get over in such a short period of time between now and their next game. Could we see a Challenge Cup Final hangover from the Super League Champions or will they now stampede towards Super League success?
2. Castleford are a lot closer than you think
The Tigers have received a lot of stick so far this season and presently sit outside the top six. The old saying is the league table doesn’t lie well maybe it does as of right now. Inside the Tigers’ performance on Saturday I saw the qualities of a top Super League side especially in the way they moved the ball and opened up the Saints defence with ease. There’s a lot to work with for both Daryl Powell this season and Lee Radford moving forward.
3. Where exactly are Wigan?
After a torrid run of form, Wigan have now strung together back-to-back wins. Are they about to prove that the last five games were simply a blip or have they just got lucky up against the most injury hit side in the competition? I suppose time will tell on that front but don’t be surprised to see them take the league by storm once their stars are once again fit.
4. The Old Trafford door firmly open for Catalans
During Friday’s live game with Leeds, Jon Wells made a valid point. If the Dragons can secure a top two spot all they’ll need to get to Old Trafford is a home victory in the semi-final. We all know just how formidable the Dragons tend to be in France meaning it would take a brave man to bet against them in such a scenario. Furthermore, with St Helens coming off the back of an emotional Challenge Cup triumph and with Wigan hit by injury, it’s starting to look very likely that the Dragons will at least claim second spot.
5. What to make of Leeds’ second second half collapse
It’s very rare to see two games between the same two sides just a week apart follow the exact same script, however Catalans and Leeds’ battles over the last week have certainly done that but what should we make of Leeds’ two second half capitulations? In both games the Rhinos looked like a real force in the first half – a side capable of challenging the very best teams in Super League. Then in the second they looked tired and were simply steamrolled. Leeds have had to contend with a lot of back-to-back fixtures in recent weeks and on Friday were without plenty of key forwards forcing them to name a stand-off and a hooker on the bench. Thus, you could claim their collapse was excusable. That said, they need to ensure it doesn’t happen again. After all, every victory is going to be vital if they want to make the play-offs.