Opposition Overview: St Helens

The Betfred Challenge Cup returns this Saturday as the current Cup holders Leeds Rhinos take on the Super League Champions St Helens in the pick of the third round ties, kick off 2:30pm.

Ahead of the game we have the lowdown on our opponents. Don’t miss the game live on BBC One from 2pm.

Challenge Cup History

St Helens are twelve time winners of the Challenge Cup and have been involved in 22 Cup Finals dating back to 1896. They memorably won three consecutive Challenge Cups between 2006 and 2008, defeating Catalans, Huddersfield and Hull FC, and also claimed the Super League and Challenge Cup double in 1996. Current Leeds assistant coach Sean Long played in all the Cup Finals for Saints during the Cup three-peat, scoring a try in 2006 and kicking a combined nine goals in 2007 and 2008. One of the club’s most memorable Final appearances came in the 1960-61 season, when Rugby Union convert Tom van Vollenhoven scored one of the most memorable tries in Cup Final history.

Over the last five years, Leeds have stopped Saints from getting to the Final on two occasions, both coming when Leeds have lifted the Cup. At Emerald Headingley in 2014, the Rhinos blew away the visitors 32-12 in round five before Leeds booked their place in the 2015 Final with a 24-14 result. Since then, Hull (2016) and Castleford (2017) have been the only teams to stop Saints from making the quarter finals.

St Helens Keiron Cunningham lifts the Carnegie Challenge Cup – PICTURE BY JEREMY RATA/SWPIX.COM

Saturday’s game will be the first time the Rhinos and Saints have met in the third round of the Cup. The two clubs have met twice before in the Final in 1972 and 1978 (Leeds winning the latter 14-12) but some of the most memorable clashes have come in the semi finals, namely the 2003 semi final at the MacAlpine Stadium. A late comeback from the Rhinos sent the game into extra time and after Kevin Sinfield slotted an important one pointer to split the sides, Danny McGuire took advantage of a Sinfield line break to sprint away and send Leeds into the Final.

2021 Squad

Last Four Challenge Cup Results

Key Player

Tommy Makinson – Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com – 31/01/2019

Flying St Helens winger Tommy Makinson is always a player to watch out for. He has been a serial try scorer on the right wing since he came into the Saints side in 2011 but despite the Super League success the club has had, Makinson has never lifted the Challenge Cup. His only appearance in a Cup Final came in 2019 against Warrington but before then, he has only come within reaching the Final on two occasions, featuring in defeats to Wigan (2011) and Catalans (2018).

2020 Challenge Cup Recap

After coming so close to lifting the Cup in 2019, St Helens had their sights set on another visit Wembley in 2020 to secure the silverware they haven’t won since 2008.

But the redrawn quarter final matches didn’t fall favourably as Saints drew the holders Warrington in a rematch of the previous Final. The Wolves had blasted their way to a ninth Challenge Cup win over Kristian Woolf’s side, thanks to tries from Joe Philbin, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Daryl Clark, but had to fight for a place in the semi finals. In a thrilling clash, Anthony Gelling, Josh Charnley and Matty Ashton helped the Wolves take a 16-4 advantage before St Helens fought back; Jonny Lomax, Regan Grace and Kevin Naiqama scoring to try and get a late win but Charnley’s second of the afternoon ended the Saints’ dream of a Wembley return

The Coach

Now in his second year as St Helens coach, Kristian Woolf will be eager to build off the back of a successful first campaign at the helm.

Woolf first started coaching in 2003 with NRL side North Queensland Cowboys Schoolboys but didn’t step up to a senior coaching role until 2013, when he became assistant coach at Brisbane Broncos. He reached two finals in three years with the club before returning to the Cowboys, where he became the inaugural coach of the new Intrust Super Cup side Townsville Blackhawks, who he took to the Grand Final. Later in 2018, he was part of former Saints coach Nathan Brown’s coaching staff at Newcastle Knights before joining St Helens for 2020. He has also been heavily involved as Tonga head coach in developing the island’s ranking from 14th to 4th. He led the team to the semi finals of the 2017 World Cup and later beat the Mal Meninga’s Australia.

Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com – 01/04/2021 – Rugby League – Betfred Super League – Hull KR v St Helens – Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens, England – St Helens’ Kristian Woolf

His first year at St Helens went smoothly, especially after the COVID break. Woolf took the team from a 3-3 start to winning the first ten Super League games after the League restarted in August. Although his side fell out of the Challenge Cup at the hands of Warrington and he was just beaten to the League Leaders’ Shield by Wigan, Woolf’s St Helens made sure they finished the season with some silverware, lifting the Grand Final for a second consecutive year.

Last Challenge Cup Meeting vs Leeds

Leeds Rhinos v St Helens Super League fri 3rd july 2015 Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield

Leeds and St Helens last clashed in the Challenge Cup in the Rhinos’ 2015 treble season. Held at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium, the Cup holders Leeds made sure they returned to Wembley with a 24-14 win; Kallum Watkins, Zak Hardaker, Joel Moon and Jamie Peacock scoring the tries.

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