A week after Saints and Hull FC met in their round eight Superleague encounter the two sides went toe to toe again as they faced up in the semi final of the Challenge Cup at the Leigh Sports Village with the Airlie Birds looking to avenge their 34-16 loss and take their place at Wembley Stadium for the final.
Hull had Andre Savelio in for Joe Cator and changed Cam Scott for Jordan Johnstone on the bench. Saints gave a debut to Dan Norman, off the bench in place of Agnatius Paasi while Tommy Makinson was back for Mark Percival and Regan Grace for Josh Simm.
Few but the most ardent of Airlie Birds fans could see past a Saints win, the bookies included, but the Challenge Cup is a strange beast.
It was an end-to-end opening twelve minutes with neither side really threatening their opponents’ line. Marc Sneyd opened the scoring with a thirteenth minute penalty after Saints had been ruled offside by referee Moore.
A trademark Regan Grace signalled the first four pointer of the afternoon as he scored a spectacular flying try by the left corner flag in the seventeenth minute. Lachlan Coote’s kick went over off the far upright for a 6-2 Saints lead.
After benefitting from an offside decision Saints opted to kick with Coote slotting over the penalty to stretch the lead to six points.
When Josh Griffin suffered a bad looking injury while running the ball from his own twenty he dropped the ball which was immediately picked up by Theo Fages who ran to the line and grounded to the resounding ‘booing’ and cries of ‘cheat’ of the Hull supporters. The referee checked the grounding, which was fine, and when Coote added the conversion it was 14-2.
The teams remained locked together without any further scores until the interval although Saints had the bulk of the position and possession.
Saints also started the second half the brightest and a stretch from Jack Welsby registered Saints third of the afternoon and stretched the lead to 18-2 after forty-seven minutes. Coote added the conversion, and the game was drifting away from Hull.
Back to back sets on fifty-one finally saw Hull over the line thanks to a delayed pass into the hands of Mahe Fonua who came inside and ran over the top of the Saints tacklers to ground. Sneyd kicked the extras for 8-20.
A Fages drop-goal on sixty-four was a hammer blow for Hull who had been showing plenty of go-forward as it edges Saints three tries clear with just a quarter of an hour left.
But Hull struck straight back after a Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook. From the next play a brilliant Carlos Tuimavave offload went into the hands of Danny Houghton who made it to the line from just over five metres out. Sneyd added the conversion and the margin was down to seven.
On seventy minutes FC scored again after some miracle ball play in keeping it alive. A great tip pass from Connor went into the hands of Cam Scott who flew the last ten metres to ground in the corner. Sneyd was unable to add the conversion, the margin now three points with seven minutes remaining.
A Connor 40-20 put Hull deep in the Saints red zone on seventy-three, but Saints turned defence into attack as Regan Grace gambled and intercepted on his own line to sprint the length of the field and dive to the ground for the winning score. Coote added the conversion for 27-18 and with five minutes remaining it was game over.
Coote added a four pointer on seventy-seven as he took a Kevin Naiqama tip back of a Fages high kick to run ten metres and score under the sticks. He converted his own try for 33-18, a score line which flattered Saints.
Saints had a bit of a scare in the second half but when the chips were down Regan Grace stood up and gambled on the intercept which got his side the winning try as he raced the length of the field. All credit to Hull who wouldn’t lie down, but it’s Saints safely into the semi-final and looking forward to their day in the Wembley sunshine.
Hull FC: Connor, Fonua (T), Tuimavave, Griffin, Swift, Reynolds, Sneyd (3G), Sao, Houghton (T), Satae, Savelio, Ma’u, Lane. Subs: Bowden, Brown, Fash, Scott (T).
St Helens: Coote (T, 6G), Makinson, Naiqama, Welsby (T), Grace (2T), Lomax, Fages (T, DG), Walmsley, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Mata’utia, Thompson, Knowles. Subs: Norman, Amor, Batchelor, Dodd.
Referee: Liam Moore.
Score Progression: 2-0, 2-4, 2-6, 2-8, 2-12, 2-14 : HT : 2-18, 2-20, 6-20, 8-20, 8-21, 12-21, 14-21, 18-21, 18-25, 18-27, 18-31, 18-33 : FT.