The return of the Challenge Cup is just around the corner which means the road to Wembley is about to start. So, as we prepare for rugby league’s oldest and most prestigious competition it’s time to look back at the biggest upsets of the last decade to remind ourselves that this is a tournament where anything can happen.
10. Hull KR 26-18 Warrington Wolves 2015 Semi-final
Leeds Rhinos had booked their place at Wembley on Friday night and it was almost universally accepted that Warrington – the cup’s most successful team over the previous five years – would be joining them in a rematch of the 2010 and 2012 finals. Hull KR were well and truly written off as they began fighting for survival in the Middle 8s. Things didn’t pan out the way people expected at Headingley however. Despite four straight defeats a superb first 50 minutes saw the Robins storm 20-6 in front. However, Richie Myler swiftly orchestrated a comeback that gave Warrington hope of averting the upset and claiming the spot in the final. However, Shaun Lunt settled the match sneaking over wrapping up a shock win and a place in the final.
9. Catalans Dragons 35-16 St Helens 2018 Semi-final
Three years later we witnessed an even more shocking Semi-final. Saints went into the game fancied to win the treble. They’d utterly dominated Super League up to that point and were headed for over 50 points in the league table. On the way to the semi, they’d even battered the previous League Leaders Castleford 36-18. However, Catalans shocked the rugby league world with a masterclass of a first half storming 27-0 in front. Ben Garcia impressed for the Dragons with a brace and the points the Dragons accumulated in the first half was enough to see them through to the final where they’d beat Warrington to claim the silverware.
8. Leigh Centurions 22-10 Salford Red Devils 2018 Round 6
8 months on from their relegation back to the Championship, Leigh reminded the world that they deserved to be in the top tier. Despite falling behind early thanks to tries from Niall Evalds and George Griffin, Leigh scored four tries without reply to storm to the quarter-finals for the fourth time in 7 years. Ben Reynolds was particularly impressive that day scoring 10 of Leigh’s 22 points.
7. Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 30-36 Leigh Centurions 2015 Round 6
By 2015, Wakefield were certainly an established Super League club despite their struggles against relegation. Meanwhile, Leigh were desperate to show they belonged in the top division. The two met with the stakes higher than the usual Super League-Championship tie. Wakefield claimed initial control of the contest going into halftime 24-6 up but a blistering second half from Leigh that showed the extent of their attacking prowess saw them burst passed Trinity with five second half tries securing their place in the quarter-finals for the third time in four seasons.
6. Leigh Centurions 22-18 Salford Red Devils 2015 Round 5
Leigh certainly have been the kings of Challenge Cup upsets in the last 10 years. 2014-15 represented a period of dominance over the second tier for the Centurions as they scored tries for fun. A year earlier they very nearly beat Leeds Rhinos at Headingley in the quarter-finals and set sail towards the latter stages of the competition again with a narrow win over the Red Devils. In a closely fought game, two tries in four minutes from Brierley and Pownall took Leigh from 12-18 down to 22-18 in front. They’d then hold on for the final 12 minutes to vanquish their Super League opponents.
5. Thatto Heath Crusaders 16-14 North Wales Crusaders 2019 Round 4
In a rare departure from the status quo, last year saw a club from outside the three main divisions of rugby league vanquished by a side playing in the National Conference Leagues. Thatto Heath – an amateur club – defeated League 1’s North Wales Crusaders. Thatto Heath defended superbly against their semi-professional opponents and secured a famous win thanks to tries from Connor Dwyer and Matty Norton.
4. Featherstone Rovers 23-16 Castleford 2012 Round 4
This was a game long in the waiting as two local rivals butted heads for the first time in years. It was assumed Featherstone would put in a valiant effort but Super League Castleford would have too much for the Rovers. The Tigers got off to a good start with a try from Daryl Clark. But a pair of tries from Tangi Ropati and Kyle Briggs left Fev in front. Another two tries fried Rovers 14 points in front but the Tigers ensured the game was nicely balanced at 20-10 at halftime. Running out of steam after a superb first half, the Rovers did just enough to hold on. From there they even shocked Wigan in the next round before the reigning Cup Holders ploughed to victory despite their slow start. As for Castleford, it was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to them as not long after that they enjoyed a period of success under the Featherstone coach that day – Daryl Powell. The only reason this isn’t higher is Castleford found themselves finishing 13th out of 14 whilst Featherstone finished top of the Championship.
3. Hull KR 22-36 Oldham 2016 Round 5
An upset is one thing but to lose by 14 points to the team who’d go onto finish 10th in the Championship is another. A year on from their dramatic journey to the Challenge Cup Final as they themselves defied the odds, Hull KR were soundly beaten by Oldham. A superb first half from Oldham left them 24-6 in front thanks to tries from Hope, Lepori, Roper and Clay. Hull KR mounted a comeback but would rue missed goal kicks. They managed 1 from 5 that afternoon leaving them 8 points down despite having scored the same amount of tries. However, a late Lepori second sealed a famous 8 point win for Oldham. It was a sign of things to come for Hull KR as they were relegated by the end of the season.
2. Bradford Bulls 24-22 Leeds Rhinos 2019 Round 6
Since their back-to-back Grand Final meetings in 2004 and 2005, the Rhinos and the Bulls went on drastically different journeys. Leeds won a further 7 Super League titles whilst rivals Bradford suffered relegation a year before Leeds won the illustrious treble. This resembled an opportunity for the Bulls to re-live some of the glory days but no one actually believed they’d beat a struggling Leeds side who’d made it to the semi-finals 7 times out of the previous 9 seasons. However, the Bulls dramatically edged this pulsating West Yorkshire derby by 2 points. Bradford produced a superb first half heading 22-14 up against their Super League rivals thanks to tries from Grant, Wesbter, Hallas and Wood. Leeds nearly battled back to break Bradford hearts but a missed conversion left them with egg on their face. They did write that wrong a year later going onto win the Challenge Cup.
1. Huddersfield Giants 24-28 Swinton Lions 2017 Round 5
This upset truly came out of nowhere. Unlike the 2019 Leeds Rhinos, the Giants of 2017 had a steady campaign from start to finish. However, they were outplayed by Championship Swinton who were forced to call on three debutants due to injuries and went into the game just one spot above the relegation places in the Championship. An even first half saw the Lions trail 18-16 at the break. However, they were able to restrict Huddersfield to just one try in the second half and scored two of their own stealing the victory thanks to a Waterworth try in the 76th minute.