Here are my thoughts on this weekend's action in the Carnegie Challenge Cup. |
CHALLENGE CUP 2007
SEMI FINAL PREVIEW
St Helens v Bradford
The glamour tie of the semi finals - fortunately the RFL managed to keep Saints and Wigan apart!! Amazing what a couple of warm balls can achieve - only joking!!
The Galpharm Stadium should witness a game to remember between the two salary cap abusers.
Saints will no doubt start as favourites but Bradford are not a side to be underestimated as the Rhinos and others have found out to their cost this year. Steve McNamara must be in the running for coach of the year - his ability to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts is admirable for a relatively inexperienced coach. It is a shame some of his more illustrious counterparts seem adept at the reverse.
Bradford come into this game on the back of a very poor performance in trying conditions against a spirited Salford side last Saturday. Saints on the other hand showed a bit more spirit - not unexpected given the opposition - in defeating Wigan in the closest derby for a while.
Andersonís berating of the RFL seems to have worked as Wilkin and Cunningham were cleared and able to be included in his 17 for this game. He seems less at ease with matters than he did in the all conquering 2006 campaign. Having watched Saints on Sky the last few weeks something isnít quite right - they are not firing on all cylinders - could this be a sign of disharmony in the camp. Pryce has been very quiet, Robyís early season impact seems to have dulled as has Grahamís - this could be significant in the end result. On the plus side Matty Smith has really stepped up to the plate in Longís absence. Hopefully he will not be discarded in favour of his more exalted colleague. Saints need to get back to their game plan of fast line speed in defence, bashing up the middle and then pushing the ball out to the impressive backline in attack. Much will depend on Wilkin - if he can stay on the field for 80 minutes and Leon Pryce - a real game breaker when he is in the mood.
Bradford on the other hand appear a contented side that play for each other - a reflection of their coach perhaps. The loss of Langley is not quite the handicap it is being portrayed. They will miss his size but that apart Jamie has failed to fulfil his early promise - but hey he fills the shirt!! Another monster is Tupou - I didnít think it was possible to get a bigger winger than Les - but this guy is massive - he has to play a big part if the Bulls are to be victorious. Harris and Deacon are still a formidable combination what they lack in physical speed they more than make up for in mental agility. In Glenn Morrison they have the quality of an overseas player every club would want. His work rate in defence is phenomenal - when he hits you, you stay hit. If Bradford do turn Saints over you can guarantee that David Solomona will have contributed a couple of unbelievable offloads. If they lose you can guarantee a couple of the offloads have gone astray - he is that kind of player.
Whilst I would love to see the Bulls turn Saints over I just canít see it. Saints to win in a close game.
St Helens 30 v Bradford 22
Sporting Odds are giving Bradford an 8 point start.
Wigan Warriors V Catalan Dragons
If the RFL had any guts this tie would not be going ahead. Wigan should have been encouraged to forfeit the tie as a gesture of apology for cheating the salary cap for the second year in succession. £220k is the headline number although I understand the meek-mongers at the RFL are investigating other irregularities!! It is a pity Wiganís sponsors have done to them what Rassmussenís did to him during the Tour de France.
That leads us on seamlessly to the Catalan Dragons - who will unfortunately miss the parade of man and bike down the Champs Elysee on Sunday afternoon. This is the third year in the last four that a French side has reached the semi final - maybe this could be the year they finally make it to the big game.
The Halliwell Jones is an interesting venue for the game - obviously chosen by the RFL for its equidistance between both sides!!! This game should have been played at The Stoop - once again Wigan fans are not inconvenienced. With its 10k capacity it shows the ambition the organisers have for the crowd - sadly yet another illustration of the Challenge Cupís fading public fascination.
Who will win - depends on who of Jones or Barrett gets control of the game. On paper Wigan has the stronger team littered with players of serious repute. The French have the underdogs tag no bad thing in a game such as this. Hopefully this Potter can be as big a success as namesake and provide some wizardry to bamboozle Noblesí charges.
Wigan look at full strength whilst the loss of Thomas Bosq will be a blow to the Dragons - especially his goal kicking. I would love to see the Dragons triumph over Wigan but given the Dragons dreadful form on the road I just cannot see them turning the Warriors over - shame indeed.
Wigan Warriors 35 v Catalans Dragons 14
Sporting Odds are giving the Dragons a 12 point start.