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Hull FC stand in Wigan Warriors’ bid for a record extending 20th Challenge Cup success this weekend, and while Lee Radford’s team will be able to draw on the experience of winning last year’s Wembley showpiece, fans of the Black & Whites will know their side have never beaten the Lancashire club in the final in three previous attempts.
Grosvenor Casinos turned to rugby expert Dan Roebuck for some insight into how this match could pan out.
Small margins for big gains
The heartache wasn’t Hull’s in the 2016 renewal. They toughed it out in an energy-sapping encounter against Warrington Wolves, stunning their opponents by coming back from 10 points down – with 18 minutes to go! – to claim a 12-10 win. Radford said his players were sinking ‘in quicksand’ before the dead-eye kicking of Marc Sneyd, who deservedly won the Lance Todd Trophy, ensured they were floating on air at full-time by claiming a first ever win at the national stadium.
Last year Hull were slight underdogs, 12 months on they are again framed as minimal outsiders, as Wigan edge the betting in the 80-minute match market at 41/50, with the Yorkshire club 23/20 (it’s 18/1 the draw). Shaun Wane’s team are charged with giving up 1.5 points on the tightest handicap (at 17/20, with Hull 19/20), which is no surprise given recent meetings between the two finalists. The last four match-ups have been split two wins a piece, and while Hull beat Wigan in the semi-final last year the reverse was true the last time they met in the final, in 2013. That 16-0 defeat is a game Gareth Ellis remembers well, and the Hull skipper will be determined to avenge that loss as he is set to retire at the end of the season.
Hull have never won back-to-back Challenge Cups, Wigan meanwhile are past masters. The Warriors 2017 vintage is by no means in the same class as the side that won the trophy eight times on the spin in the late 80s through to the mid 90s, when Ellery Hanley, Martin Offiah, Shaun Edwards and co. dominated the domestic game. But in Joe Burgess they have a winger who has gone over the line 18 times in Super League this season, and is a worthy favourite to be the first try-scorer on what will be his Wembley debut.
Familiarity to breed tense battle
The two coaches know each other well, with Wane explaining this week that both he and Radford want to put on more of a show for the fans than the dour affair of four years ago. There is a real feeling, though, that this could be another tight encounter, as both teams are tough to break down. No player in Super League has made more tackles (956) than Danny Houghton, and the Hull hooker would be my pick for Lance Todd Trophy honours on Saturday.
Wigan have Ben Flower and Dom Manfredi on the sidelines through injury, but no Challenge Cup preview can be written without a word on the extraordinary recovery of Tony Clubb. The Warriors prop had a kidney removed in early May, but has stunned everyone by returning so soon – in fact, he scored a try just 58 days after the operation.
Recent returns point to triumph for Radford
Hull are four points clear of Wigan in the Super League standings, and while they lost 46-18 to Huddersfield Giants last week, they did rest players. Previously, they’d won four on the bounce – and remember they knocked runaway league leaders Castleford out of this year’s Challenge Cup.
Radford’s men seem to be hitting their stride at the right time and are taken to edge a close game.
I’ll be backing Hull to win by 12 points or less at 9/4, with the time of the first try after the eighth minute, at 8/11.