Rhinos-Wolves Challenge Cup semi too tough to call!
Anyone got a coin? Because, trying to pick a favourite – let alone a winner – of Saturday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final between Leeds Rhinos and Warrington Wolves by more rational means appears futile.
Separating two virtually full-strength teams, jam-packed with international big-game players on neutral territory is hard enough. But when you throw in the added caveat that neither side has been consistently convincing this season either, it gets nigh on impossible.
In building a case for Warrington, some will point to Leeds Rhinos’ apparent Challenge Cup curse which has seen them fail to win the famous old trophy this century. However, the hoodoo doesn’t extend to semi-finals, with Leeds winning each of their last four.
Yes, Warrington are the modern-day ‘Challenge Cup kings’ with three victories in five years, but punters latching on to this factor alone would still have to explain away their abject performance at this stage against Hull FC 12 months ago.
And, true Warrington have defeated Leeds in two of the last four Challenge Cup Finals, but lets not forget that the Rhinos have since redressed the big-game balance by beating the Wolves convincingly in the Grand Final two years ago.
Whichever way you look at it, the issue is clouded. And, wouldn’t you just know, both sides have beaten each other in Super League this year, whilst history tells us that 21 previous Cup meetings between the teams throws up a perfect split with ten wins apiece and a draw!
For the record, we bookmakers make Leeds the marginal 3/4 favourites to win this game, and slight favourites to win the Cup outright which may come as a slight surprise to some considering each team’s respective performances last weekend.
Whilst the Wolves were putting two horrible defeats behind them by edging out Catalan Dragons in a torrid struggle in the south of France, the Rhinos were meekly surrendering local bragging rights to relegated rivals Bradford Bulls in one of the shocks of the season!
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott wasn’t pleased with his side’s errant ball control that night, and understandably so, but the the return of skipper Kevin Sinfield from suspension alongside the rested Jamie Peacock up front will no doubt steady the ship.
If the Rhinos were to suddenly rediscover their ‘A game’, they possess sufficient firepower to win this game. The worry is, we probably haven’t seen the best of the Rhinos since May and it’s questionable whether conditions in St Helens will play to their strengths with showers forecast.
In contrast, the timely return from injury of hooker Michael Monaghan sparked an enormous improvement from the Wolves last week and, all in all, they marginally look the safer option in what should prove an intense struggle.
So, all in all, definitely a game to savour rather than punt heavily on, but there may be some value in the highest scoring half market with a bet on the second half to come to life as the game opens up at 4/6 recommended.
The match kicks off at 2.30pm on Saturday at the neutral venue of St Helens’ Langtree Park.
Bet on Leeds Rhinos v Warrington Wolves in the Tetley Challenge Cup Semi-Final.