Sunday, 29 July 2007

History beckons as the Challenge Cup Final returns “home”

The results of this weekend’s Challenge Cup semi-final fixtures have set-up the prospect of a truly historic final befitting the return of rugby league’s grand day out in the sun to its spiritual home Wembley.

Holders St Helens will be the favourites to retain the trophy they collected last season at Twickenham, their comfortable victory over Bradford showing that whilst this season’s form hasn’t hit the highs of last year when they swept all before them, they remain the most dangerous side in British rugby league. But the imagination is really being captured by Les Catalans Dragons, the Perpignan based side who will become the first non-British side to contest the final.

Some had claimed it was “written in the stars” that former cup kings Wigan would return to the scene of their former glories to collect the trophy for the first time from the new Wembley stadium. However, the rest of the rugby league community were far less generous in their aspirations for the club following the recent salary cap scandal. If Wigan were already unpopular for profligate ways during their period of dominance, they are arguably even more unpopular at present due to the widespread perception that the club is attempting to resurrect those glory days by less than fair means.

As it was any script written in the stars was brought down to earth by a gutsy performance from the Dragons, a breath taking first half showed just how good the men from Perpignan can be when they hit their stride whilst the second half saw them tough it out in the face of a cherry and white fight back. Nobody doubts that they will face a far sterner test than Wigan when they line up against Saints in just under a month, but Mick Potter’s men may feel they have nothing to lose and in the Challenge Cup fairy tales do occasionally come true as Sheffield Eagles proved in 1998.

Rugby league fans love an underdog and it’s a fair guess to suggest that when the Catalans run out on to the pitch on August 26th most neutrals will be rooting for them to win, whether or not they get their fairy tale ending another chapter in rugby league history will be written.

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