This weekend sees one of the big dates in the European rugby league calendar as four teams battle for places in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.
There is a clear contrast between the two fixtures, both to be shown live on the BBC, with a titanic clash between Leeds and Warrington on Saturday afternoon before the traditional clubs Widnes and Castleford, neither of whom have been overly burdened by silverware in recent times, do battle on Sunday.
Saturday’s match sees Leeds, currently third in the Super League table, face a fifth-place Warrington outfit but if that looks like a reasonably balanced contest, the two clubs’ recent Challenge Cup form suggests otherwise.
Warrington have won the Cup thrice in the last five years, while the West Yorkshire side have not lifted the trophy this century. Leeds’s last Cup win came in 1999 with a rather facile 52-16 thrashing of London Broncos.
Warrington, meanwhile, ended a 35-year wait for a Challenge Cup Final win in 2009, beating Huddersfield 35-16, before beating Saturday’s opponents comfortably in 2010 and again in 2012.
Warrington also come into the game with more momentum, having earned a respectable narrow win in the south of France against Catalan Dragons last Friday evening, while Leeds suffered a shock home derby defeat against a Bradford team for whom relegation was already unavoidable.
Leeds do have one boost in the form of Kevin Sinfield’s return. The club and England captain was sent off for the first time in his career at the age of 33 in July for an astonishing headbutt on Luke Dorn of Castleford but has now completed his two-match ban and has his otherwise impeccable disciplinary record to thank for the suspension not being considerably longer.
Sunday’s match at Leigh Sports Village looks on paper like a reasonably comfortable one for fourth-place Castleford against Widnes who, eighth in the table, are also striving for a play-off place. Widnes, though, will be buoyed by memories of last season’s surprise 16-12 win for Hull against Warrington at this stage, though Castleford’s Cup form this season has been outstanding.
After routine wins over Batley and Sheffield in the earlier rounds, Castleford produced a sensational defensive display to win 16-4 away to last season’s double winners Wigan in the standout match of the quarter final stage.
Widnes secured a hugely important league win on Sunday, beating Hull Kingston Rovers at home to consolidate eighth place and the last play-off berth. Castleford, meanwhile, will learn little from their easy win over London Broncos, who remain on course to finish the season without a single point in the Super League table.
It is more than twenty years since either side reached the Cup Final and scenes of delirious celebration at the for one side or the other at the full time hooter are virtually guaranteed.
The BBC’s coverage begins at 2.00pm on Saturday on BBC One with Tanya Arnold in the presenter’s seat at St Helens’s Langtree Park ground with Dave Woods and Jonathan Davies in the commentary box.
Sunday’s match will be on BBC Two from 2.30pm, with both games followed by the traditional Rugby League Forum on the BBC’s Red Button service and online.
Fans can also watch the action online via the BBC Sport website, which will be the place to find live streaming of BBC One/BBC Two’s coverage and all the latest news, features, video and live text commentary.
It promises to be a fierce weekend of rugby as four sides battle it out for the right to make that trip to Wembley for the final on August 23, which will be broadcast exclusively live on BBC One.
For more information on the Tetley’s Challenge Cup, visit the official website.
Saturday 9th August LEEDS RHINOS v WARRINGTON WOLVES Kick-off: 14:30 LIVE: 2.00pm-4.30pm BBC One Kick-off: 14:30 Forum: 4.30pm-5.00pm BBC Red Button Sunday 10th August WIDNES VIKINGS v CASTLEFORD TIGERS Kick-off: 15:00 LIVE: 2.30pm-5.00pm BBC Two Kick-off: 14:30 Forum: 5.00pm-5.30pm BBC Red Button