It’s Challenge Cup semi-final weekend – one of the biggest weekends in the rugby league calendar. So often the home of classic encounters, we should be in-store for two more brilliant ties today.
But will they go down as some of the best ever? Well, we’ll let you decide that but for now let’s look back on the five best Challenge Cup semi-finals of the Super League era and see the kind of game this weekend’s rugby will have to top to be considered one of the great semi-finals.
5. Leeds Rhinos 32-28 St Helens 2010
Most Challenge Cup semi-finals are remembered for one piece of brilliance. But this one is remembered for three sublime Leeds tries which epitomised a side at the peak of their powers. First a surging run from Keith Senior followed by a brilliant offload allowed Danny McGuire to speed to the sticks after juggling the ball. Then the finest flick pass you’ll ever see from Danny Buderus put Brent Webb over before the Rhinos won the game thanks to a fantastic Jamie Peacock offload and more world class support play from McGuire as Leeds kept coming back from behind against a Saints side also playing brilliant rugby on a warm summer’s afternoon.
4. Huddersfield Giants 24-14 St Helens 2009
In 2009, the Giants ended St Helens stranglehold on the Challenge Cup. After, winning the cup three years in a row – including a final win over Huddersfield in 2006 – St Helens were denied a fourth consecutive Challenge Cup by a gutsy Huddersfield side. A brilliant first half from the West Yorkshire outfit saw them lead 10-4 at the break thanks to tries from Brett Hodgson and Stephen Wild. Despite Huddersfield’s superb showing, the game was in the balance until Hodgson and Wild combined for a spectacular try to seal their first Challenge Cup Final appearance since 1962.
3. London Broncos 33-27 Castleford Tigers 1999
When most people think of the 1999 Challenge Cup, most people jump to the record-breaking final – the last one to be played at the old Wembley. However, to do so is a disservice to one of the most exciting and end to end semi-finals ever. In an exhilarating contest, the game wasn’t decided until the very end of the game as both sides traded scores in a bizarre final 10 minutes which left the scores tied at 27-27. But the Broncos went onto snatch it thanks to a late Steele Retchless try.
2. Hull FC 16-12 Warrington Wolves 2013
Since 2010, the rugby league world had been were waiting for a Wigan-Warrington final. The two teams had dominated the league standings for four seasons and many wanted to see them do battle in a final. On this particular occasion, Wigan waited for the victor at Wembley and everyone expected Warrington to easily pull past Hull and head to Wembley for a fourth time in five years. But the Black and Whites didn’t get a copy of the script. Warrington opened the scoring with a simply amazing team try capped off by a Joel Monaghan finish. They raced 8-0 ahead shortly after and appeared headed for Wembley. After 16 minutes, they again looked to turn the screw but a cross field kick was poached by a young Tom Lineham. He went the length of the field to turn the tide for Hull. Four minutes later, Hull were in front. Their momentum continued into the second half and a third try followed giving Hull a 16-8 advantage. But, they got a little excited themselves and with five to go gifted Warrington a try as a Chris Riley intercept turned into a Ben Currie try. Warrington then threw everything at Hull in the last five minutes, but resurgent defence took Hull to Wembley denying the world their Wigan-Warrington final.
1. Leeds Rhinos 33-26 St Helens 2003
A young Rhinos side on the rise that one day would become known as the golden generation took on Super League Champions St Helens with the Challenge Cup Final waiting for the winner. In both 2001 and 2002, St Helens had dumped Leeds out of the cup at this stage, so the Rhinos had a point to prove. Despite an exhilarating start to the game that saw Andrew Dunneman – sporting a torn shirt – put in Mark Calderwood for a brilliant try in a bizarre moment, Leeds looked headed for defeat as Saints took a late 26-20 lead. However, a sneaky Danny McGuire try gave Leeds hope of taking the game to extra time. Skipper Kevin Sinfield stepped up to take the conversion. An unproven kicker then, he nailed the two points before nudging Leeds ahead in the first half of extra time with a drop goal. The big moments kept coming from the future Leeds legend as his break led to one of the all-time great semi-final tries as McGuire danced around the cover to score the clinching try in the corner and take Leeds to the final.