Barrie McDermott's Carnegie Challenge Cup semi final preview

Carnegie Ambassador Barrie McDermott looks ahead to this weekend’s Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-finals

Saturday August 8, 2009
Wigan v Warrington
Stobart Stadium, Halton (2.30)

Wigan Warriors

Despite a narrow defeat last week against Carnegie Challenge Cup kings St Helens, Wigan will have a lot of mental strength going into this tie. In recording a famous victory over Leeds Rhinos, they showed tremendous resilience. I haven’t seen a more determined Wigan side for a long time. The way that the players fought tooth and nail for each other was mightily impressive. They seem to have a renewed confidence in each other defensively and if they can replicate that this weekend against Warrington then they have a realistic chance of coming away victors.

I’m not sure that Wigan have the consistency required at present to be in contention for the engage Super League title but winning the Carnegie Challenge Cup is about performing at your best five times in a row. Playing in big games that are all-or-nothing is a very specific art; whichever of these two sides can raise their game on the day will fight through to Wembley later this month.

Players to watch

I believe that the Tomkins brothers, Joel and Sam, can be really influential in this tie. Sam is a brilliant, skilful, maverick player who can do things that no-one is expecting and spark the team into life. Joel on the other hand is inspirational in a different way – he’s tough, hard-working and most of all durable.

Pat Richards has also been in very good form in the last month or so, he’s certainly the best in the league at scoring tries from crossfield kicks. That will definitely be part of the armoury and there will be an almighty battle when the ball gets kicked into the corner between Richards and Warrington’s wingers, Chris Hicks and Chris Riley.

Warrington Wolves

Wigan will face extremely stiff competition in semi-final opponents Warrington Wolves. They are a side littered with quality players and are a really attractive team to watch. The players are starting to grasp the coach’s requirements now and playing a far more structured game. Under Smith they are playing to a set pattern and a gameplan which makes them focus on the process, and this will help them get the outcome they require.

In previous years, Warrington have been guilty of taking the approach of being focused on the outcomes and trying just to score more points than their opponents. Sometimes that will work for you, but under this coach they know it is now far more about the process. The players are learning to work on each individual piece to make up the whole jigsaw and realising that each piece must become as important as the picture itself.

Having put a lot of points against Salford a couple of weeks ago, Warrington were a little unlucky to lose out to Leeds as they lost their lead in the last minute of the game they probably were the better team. They’ll also be hugely disappointed to lose both Brian Carney and Simon Grix after Carney broke his arm and Grix sustained a shoulder injury in the match against the Rhinos.

In recent matches though, they have shown that they can withstand pressure. They are starting to look like a side that can grind a win out – having absorbed pressure, they now are able to apply pressure of their own. It comes down to a process; if the process starts to fail, then the players will be told must do it better. They are learning not to do anything that is off script.

Players to watch

Warrington have become a very cohesive unit, the Anderson brothers, Vinnie and Louis, and big Gaz Carvel all carry out instructions as best as they can. Adrian Morley, for me, is the Man of Steel this season. What he is producing week in, week out is outstanding. He is also performing when his team sometimes isn’t. His performance in the semi-final, though, will have to be immense if his Warrington side are to overcome a very good Wigan side.

Barrie’s match prediction

I’m really looking forward to this semi-final, it promises to be an explosive tie. I think whoever wins the battle up the middle will go on to win the game and I think Warrington’s pack might just have enough quality to defeat Wigan and make it through to Wembley for the chance to win the Carnegie Challenge Cup for the first time since the 1970s.

Sunday August 9, 2009
St Helens v Huddersfield
The Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington (4.00)

St Helens

St Helens will be buoyed by a last-gasp victory against rivals Wigan last weekend and the performance of Kyle Eastmond was brilliant. If Saints go to Wembley he will win the Lance Todd Trophy – mark my words! There is no doubt about the pedigree of this St Helens team and their record in this competition is unquestionable. However their form over the last month or so has been wobbly.

They have been suffering from injuries in recent weeks but it was good to see Paul Wellens take the field again on Friday. Injuries are part and parcel of a rugby league player’s workload and to my mind a half-fit Paul Wellens is a gamble worth taking. He is a proven player at every level and is a good leader within the team. Saints will certainly need as many of their quality players on the pitch as they can get against the Giants. However all sides suffer injury problems and it can become a good test of a team’s youth policy. Saints have a number of young kids who are just coming through and, if selected for this match, could ultimately determine whether Saints can progress to another final at Wembley. 

Huddersfield Giants

After beating Hull FC without conceding a point, the Giants have cemented third place in engage Super League and have a great chance to knock out the Cup holders this weekend. If Huddersfield play the way that they have been in the last couple of weeks and aren’t overawed by the occasion then we have a real chance of seeing them in the final. 

Earl Crabtree is in the form of his life and his story is an excellent lesson to a lot of players. Earlier on in his career, he clearly wasn’t the finished article, but he kept battling away and worked hard to improve. At 26 he looks like the complete player and sometimes, as a front rower, it takes that long to learn the trade. 

I honestly think they have an excellent chance to put one over on Saints but in games like this it’s about who handles the emotions the best. The higher the anxiety levels, the more likely you will make the wrong decision. Players who are used to it have the right mentality to make the right decision and create winning situations for their side. The two sides play really contrasting rugby with Huddersfield employing a very defence-orientated approach. They have a fast style of defence, their line speed is on the ‘W’ of the whistle and they play a controlled brand of rugby. Saints on the other hand are a constant threat from literally anywhere on the pitch. It’s heartbreaking to lose in the semi-finals of the Carnegie Challenge Cup – you don’t get the chance to even dream of doing a victory lap around Wembley. Although losing in the final is painful, the experience of a Cup Final and all the build up is better than nothing. To lose in the semis means that you walk away without the preparations of a prestigious final. It really is a special time preparing for a Wembley final: players need to enjoy it and involve all of their family and friends.

Barrie’s match prediction

I believe that conditions make come into play in this tie – If it’s a dry day then we could be on for a points fest. If it’s wet then it will be very close. Passion will be very high, and I think Huddersfield will really believe they will win.
For me, the Giants will take this tie and knock the league leaders out of this competition.