Talking Rugby: The Challenge Cup semi-final at Elland Road will be a massive occasion

A huge game awaits for Wigan Warriors this weekend in what is set to be a fantastic occasion for a number of reasons.

By Amos Wynn
Friday, 6th May 2022, 4:55 am

Appearing in a Challenge Cup semi-final is of course a massive thing, with the exciting prospect of a showpiece occasion being up for grabs.

The fact that it’s a triple-header at Elland Road will give the day another special feeling, due to the history of the stadium.

But, the Warriors taking on St Helens ups the ante to a whole new level.

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Ahead of the Good Friday Derby a few weeks ago there was a debate over what was the biggest rivalry in English rugby league, and the answer remains the same, it certainly is.

It doesn't get bigger than Wigan V Saints, and the fact that the game is taking place at a neutral ground for a place in the final of the Challenge Cup will only make it more special.

The atmosphere at the Totally Wicked Stadium a few weeks ago was tremendous, with both sets of fans singing loud and proud.

Certainly no difference can be expected this Saturday, with Elland Road set to be bouncing.

Hopefully plenty of fans, from all of the clubs involved, will make the trip to Leeds, because it has the potential to be an excellent occasion.

Of course, not too much time has passed since the last meeting between the two teams, where Matty Peet’s side were defeated 22-4.

St Helens are the benchmark at the moment, and are ahead of everyone else in Super League.

Can we expect Wigan to have closed that gap in a number of weeks?- Probably not, but nor does that mean they shouldn’t fancy their chances.

In the early moments of the Good Friday Derby, the Warriors passed up a glorious opportunity to take the lead, which could have potentially changed the outcome.

While they did eventually go ahead through a Jai Field try, if they had gone ahead in the opening minutes would’ve set a completely different tone to the game.

Eventually, they just seemed to run out of steam and St Helens’ relentlessness proved to be too much in the second half.

That doesn’t mean the same will happen this time.

It may be less than a month since their previous meeting, but the Warriors are improving all the time.

They never seem to give up, and that could prove crucial in the semi-final.

Having Liam Marshall and Iain Thornley fit again will give them a huge boost, both in defence and attack.

Bevan French is also looking sharper every week, and could have an impact on the game.

This will no doubt be the biggest test while both Thomas Leuluai and Sam Powell are absent, but Harry Smith and Brad O’Neill have both slotted in well so far, with the pair being more than capable.

Wigan head into this game on the back of a strong 40-22 victory over Warrington Wolves, which will only grow their confidence.

While there were some lapses in concentration in the game at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, the Warriors still provided plenty of evidence that they are more than capable of troubling Kristian Woolf’s side.

With St Helens missing a few players, it’s certainly a more level playing field.

That’s not to say it’s going to be any easier, because they will still field an excellent team that will know exactly what they need to do in order to get the win.

The Warriors will need to produce one of their best performances of the season and make sure they have ironed out any potential errors in their game.

If they are able to do that then it’ll be an extremely exciting day and a great spectacle for rugby league.

With all of the matches being shown live on the BBC, it’s also a golden opportunity to grow the game and hopefully attract a few new viewers.

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Away from Wigan, last week saw Leigh Centurions bring in Blake Ferguson.

This a superb signing for the Championship club, and he will most definitely take the competition by storm.

Adrian Lam’s side were already a pretty tough team to come up against, so the addition of even more fire power is something their opponents won’t be pleased to see.

With clubs such as the Sydney Roosters and Parramatta Eels on his CV, there is no doubting Ferguson’s quality, but he does come with some controversy.

The 32-year-old had joined Japanese union side Green Rockets Tokatsu at the end of last year, but had his contract terminated before he could play a game, after being arrested following allegations of cocaine possession.

This is a chance for Ferguson to get his career back on track, and probably an opportunity Leigh couldn’t afford to pass up on.

It looks like a really interesting title race between the Centurions and Featherstone Rovers at the moment, and this signing could very much be the thing that separates the two.

Finally, outside of rugby league, it is fantastic to see Wigan Athletic win League One and return to the Championship.

If Amazon or any other company are looking to do a sporting documentary, they shouldn’t be looking anywhere else than the DW Stadium.

Leam Richardson has done a fantastic job to guide them back up to the second tier, when two years ago there were fears on whether the club would still be in existence.

If this isn’t a great sporting story, then what is?