Super League’s top two teams, Warrington and St Helens, kicked off today’s quarter-final action in the Coral Challenge Cup when they staged a replay of last year’s final at Salford’s AJ Bell stadium.
On that occasion, Warrington took the honours and lifted the cup they were defending, against a team any regarded as the cup kings of the Super League era.
And they took the field this afternoon with the best defence in the top flight against a team with the highest scoring attack.
And they showed why that was just six minutes into the game: a series of passes from a quick play-the-ball ended up in the hands of Johnny Lomax who dotted down behind the posts, giving Lachlan Coote the easiest of conversions. Saints now led 0-6.
But a great 40-10 kick from Blake Austin then saw Wire with a chance to hit back, starting a set 10m from the Saints line and winning two penalties on the trot.
It nearly came off when Stefan Ratchford kicked through, but Coote beat Toby King to the ball in the in-goal area and tapped it dead to give Wire a repeat set. That finished with Jake Mamo going over in the corner, but the ref blew for a forward pass and Saints had withstood the pressure.
Minuts later, they won a penalty and Coote kicked them 0-8 ahead.
Both sides pushed and probed for the next quarter of an hour, with Saints just having the edge. But on 29 minutes, Blake Austin kicked high across the field after a passing attack came to nothing on Saints’ left flank and Anthony Gelling outjumped Regan Grace to score for the Wolves. Ratchford couldn’t convert and the score was now 4-8.
Josh Charnley doubled the Wolves’ try tally when Gelling released him with a flicked offload from a three strong tackle. Ratchford made no mistake with the conversion this time and Warrington took the lead at 10-8.
With half-time fast approaching, Mamo fed the ball out to Matty Ashton who ran clear and ate up the 70 metres to the Saints try line to extend Warrington’s lead to 16-8 – with Ratchford’s conversion – as the half-time hooter sounded.
Both teams had moments when they threatened in the first 15 minutes after the restart. But it was Regan Grace who opened the second-half scoring for St Helens, putting the ball down in a signature flying move as he was pushed over the line, in the spot he had just minutes earlier been denied a try when he lost the ball in similar circumstances.
Coote’s conversion closed the gap to two points in Warrington’s favour at 16-14.
But Warrington extended the lead again almost immediately after when Josh Charnley scored his second, latching onto a high pass deflected by Anthony Gelling’s head and sprinting into the corners. Ratchford missed his second conversion of the afternoon, but Wire now led 20-14.
But ill-discipline gave Saints a penalty for a late his on Theo Fages, and by the end of the set Kevin Naiqama powered over in the corner to take the score to 20-18 as the game entered the final 10 minutes, although Coote couldn’t convert to even up the scores.
With just two minutes to go, Warrington won a penalty in front of the St Helens posts for a late tackle on Blake Austin, and while Saints got the ball back after a Wire knock-on just 10 yards from their own line even the “Wide to West” team couldn’t summon up the magic needed to win the game, or take it into extra time.
So Wire take their defence of the cup into the semi-finals.
Warrington Wolves: Ashton (T), Mamo, King, Gelling (T), Charnley (2T), Austin, Ratchford (2G), Hill, D. Clark, Cooper, Currie, J. Clark. Substitutes: Murdoch-Masila, Philbin, Davis Walker.
St Helens: Coote (2G, P), Grace (T), Percival, Naiqama, Welsby, Lomax (T), Fages, Walmsley, Roby, Graham, Taia, Gentley, Knowles. Substitutes: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lees, Amor, Smith
Referee: Chris Kendall
Half Time: 16-8
Full Time: 20-18
Venue: AJ Bell Stadium, Salford