Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos meet at Wembley Stadium on Saturday to decide who will lift the 2014 Challenge Cup. The final marks one of the biggest days in the sport, and over the years has produced some thrilling, nail-biting and tense games. Here are the 5 closest encounters from over the years…
Bradford 22-20 Leeds (2003)
Bradford and Leeds played out a dramatic all Yorkshire derby in the 2003 final under the roof at the Millenium Stadium. It was a game which swung back and forth but ultimately was decided by a crucial Paul Deacon penalty.
The sides went into half time 14 points apiece, but it was the Bulls who started the second half the strongest. Jamie Peacock, then of Bradford, extended the Bulls’ lead and then Paul Deacon sailed over a penalty to give Bradford an 8 point advantage.
Leeds reduced the deficit to just 2 points with a try from Dave Furner and with 5 minutes left on the clock were awarded a penalty with the opportunity to kick for goal and level the match. They declined and couldn’t manage to get past a stubborn Bradford defence as the Bulls held on for victory.
Sheffield 17-8 Wigan (1998)
A day that Sheffield Eagles fans will never forget as John Kear’s team sprung the biggest upset in the final’s history to defeat Wigan at Wembley. Wigan had lost just 2 matches all season, whereas the Eagles were struggling in mid table.
However, tries from Nick Pickney and Matt Crowther save Sheffield a surprise 11-2 lead at half time. They then extended their lead to 17-2 on 52 minutes as Darren Turner went over for their 3rd try.
Everyone was expecting a comeback from Wigan, but it never came. The day belonged to the 33/1 outsiders as Wigan lost their first final in their previous 10 visits to Wembley.
St. Helens 40-32 Bradford (1996)
The first Challenge Cup final of the Super League era saw the two of the biggest sides in the league break records galore as they played out an exciting game of rugby league.
With just over 20 minutes to go Bradford were leading 26-12 in a game in which Robbie Paul had run the show. The 14 point difference that St. Helens went on to diminish is the biggest comeback in the final’s history as Kieron Cunningham, Simon Booth and Ian Pickavance turned the game around for Saints. Heading in to the final 10 minutes, the momentum was with St. Helens who went on to secure a 40-32 win.
The 72 points scored means the match goes down in history as the highest scoring final, with Bradford’s 32 points being the biggest score from a losing team. It was a great game to signal the start of the modern era.
Wigan 28-24 Hull FC (1984/85)
In one of the most memorable finals to be played at the old Wembley Stadium, Wigan held off a late comeback from Hull to win the cup.
Hull opened the scoring on 11 minutes but Wigan hit back with John Ferguson going over in the corner. Two more tries from Brett Kenny and Henderson Gill extended Wigan’s lead to 16-8 at half time.
3 minutes in to the second half, Shaun Edwards’ try put Wigan 22-8 up and it looked like the cherry and whites would go on to run away with it. Hull responded 2 minutes later with Steve Evans but any hopes the black and whites had faded on 51 minutes after a second try from Ferguson gave Wigan a 28-12 lead.
Hull did not give up though. 3 tries were needed in the final 15 minutes and remarkably they got them. However, none were converted meaning the fairytale comeback just wasn’t meant to be.
Hull FC 25-24 Leeds (2005)
It would be another 20 years before Hull got the chance to get their hands on the cup but they managed to put together a dramatic win against Leeds in the 2005 final in what is often considered the greatest final of all time.
With 20 minutes to go, Hull led 19-12 and it looked like the underdogs may cause an upset. Leeds had other ideas though, and tries from Mark Calderwood and Marcus Bai turned the game in their favour as the Rhinos led 24-19 going in to the final 10 minutes.
Hull’s chance appeared to have slipped away, but in the final few minutes Paul Cooke shrugged off the Leeds defence to go over under the sticks. In the dying few seconds Richard Swain charged down a Kevin Sinfield drop goal attempt ensuring the black and whites held on for a historic win.
The Challenge Cup final is almost upon us! Castleford Tigers take on the Leeds Rhinos at Wembley this Saturday for the right to lift one of Rugby League’s most prestigious trophies. Here are 10 things you may not know about the Challenge Cup final…
#10 Wigan are the most successful team
Wigan Warriors hold the record for the most Challenge Cup final wins with 19. Between 1987 and 1995 they won the trophy 8 consecutive times and are the current holders after beating Hull FC last year 16-0.
#9 Leeds and Hull FC have the worst Wembley record
Hull’s defeat last year moved them level with Leeds Rhinos for the title of the most unsuccessful finalists. Whilst the Rhinos have enjoyed plenty of Super League success in recent years, the Challenge Cup is a competition which has evaded many of their star players. Leeds haven’t won the competition since 1999 and have lost 6 finals since then. It’s a run of bad luck they’ll be hoping to turn around on Saturday.
#8 The First Final
The first final in the history of the Cup was between St Helens and Batley in 1897. 56 clubs has entered and the final was watched by over 13000 people at Headingley. St Helens won the match 10-3.
#7 The Lance Todd Trophy
The Lance Todd trophy, named in memory of former New Zealand and Wigan player Lance Todd, is awarded to the man of the match and is selected by members of the Rugby League Writer’s Association. The first winner was Billy Stott of Wakefield in 1946 and more recently Matty Smith of Wigan collected the award last year. Former St Helens legend Sean Long holds the record for winning the accolade 3 times.
#6 The Challenge Cup Plate
In 1997 a second competition, The Challenge Cup Plate, was trialled which saw the teams knocked out in the earlier rounds of the Cup compete. Hull KR beat Hunslet Hawks 60-14 in the final at Wembley but ultimately the Plate did not prove as popular as the main competition.
#5 The Challenge Cup Trophy
The Challenge Cup itself is 36 inches of solid silver and was originally designed in 1897 by Silversmiths ‘Fattorini and sons’ who were simply given the instructions to come up with something that looked prestigious. The original trophy was last awarded to St Helens in the 2001 final, with a second version of the trophy now being presented to the winners.
#4 Biggest Win
Leeds fans will be hearing a lot this week about the 1999 final and how it was the last occasion which they won at Wembley. The day was one Rhinos’ fans shouldn’t forget after a 52-16 win over the London Broncos is still the biggest winning margin in the final’s history.
#3 World Record Attendance
In the 1953/54 final Warrington and Halifax drew 4-4 at Wembley. The replay was arranged a few days later at Odsal in Bradford, but organisers did not foresee how many spectators would be trying to get in to the ground. 102, 569 is the official attendance although it’s believed the figure was more like 120, 000 as Warrington won the replay 8-4.
There have only been 3 final replays in the history of the competition, most recently in 1982 after Widnes and Hull FC drew at Wembley (Hull won the replay at Elland Road 18-9). The RFL has confirmed that if Castleford and Leeds draw on Saturday, the replay will be held at Bramall Lane in Sheffield on the 3rd of September. The two sides drew 24-24 in the Super League last month.
#1 All Roads lead to Wembley
Despite being a predominantly northern sport, the Challenge Cup final was first staged at Wembley Stadium in London in 1929 and then permanently from 1946. Whilst the stadium went under reconstruction in the early 2000s, the final was hosted at Twickenham, Murrayfield and the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. The first final at the new Wembley Stadium saw St Helens beat Catalan Dragons 30-8 in 2007. Wembley is now ready for the all Yorkshire derby this Saturday.
The Barclays Premier League is back! With the new season kicking off this weekend here are 10 things we can look forward to seeing over the next 9 months…
#10 New signings
Each club has strengthened in the off season and it’ll be interesting to see which new players can make an impressive start for their new club. There’s plenty of hype around Diego Costa at Chelsea, Ander Herrera at Manchester United and Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal. Liverpool raided Southampton for Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert and we’ll see if the trio can continue their sublime form from the previous 2 seasons. Frank Lampard’s loan move to City won’t impress Chelsea fans, but his replacement Cesc Fabregas could light up Stamford Bridge. The transfer window doesn’t shut for another 2 weeks either so expect plenty more big moves to come.
Liverpool and Hull experimented with it last season and now Manchester United and QPR are both setting up this season with a 3-5-2 formation. It doesn’t suit every team, but if proved to be an effective system we could well see more sides adopting the formation.
#8 Chelsea challenging
Jose Mourinho was keen to exclude Chelsea from last year’s title race, but this season he’s going for the Premier League crown. He’s brought in Diego Costa and the reliable Didier Drogba to solve his striker conundrum, and Cesc Fabregas will fill the hole left by Frank Lampard. Favourites with the bookmakers, will Chelsea lift the title in May?
#7 Vanishing spray
Having been used in South American football for numerous years and the success it had at the World Cup, vanishing spray is being introduced into the Premier League as a tool to help referee’s prevent the wall from creeping forward at free-kicks.
#6 High profile assistant managers
Simply there to assist or readymade replacements for when the manager loses his job? Teddy Sheringham and Roy Keane have been brought in as assistant managers at West Ham and Aston Villa respectively, and Harry Redknapp has added former England manager Glenn Hoddle to his coaching team. Ryan Giggs also steps up to the plate as Louis van Gaal’s assistant at Manchester United.
#5 Teams coping having lost their stars
How will Liverpool react to the loss of Luis Suarez? How will Southampton and Swansea fare after their player exodus? Only time will tell.
#4 The future’s bright the future’s Oranje
After the disaster that was David Moyes’ 10 months in charge at Manchester United, there’s renewed optimism around Old Trafford after Louis van Gaal’s arrival. Will one of Europe’s most successful managers bring Champions League football back to Old Trafford or will it be another season of disappointment for United’s fans.
#3 Managerial Departures
Tony Pulis has surprisingly become the first managerial casualty of the season without a ball even being kicked. 12 managers left their clubs last season, and in the climate of modern football, you can expect more of the same.
#2 More competitive than ever at the bottom
It’s difficult to predict the 3 clubs destined for the drop and this season could be even closer than last year in the fight for survival.
#1 More competitive than ever at the top
7 teams are going for 4 places and only 6 are guaranteed European football next season. You feel any one of 5 teams can win the league, although Chelsea and Manchester City on the face of it appear to be the favourites. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be the closest season at the top yet.
The Premier League returns this weekend with all 20 teams hoping to get off to a good start. Which markets could make you some money from the opening fixtures?
The season kicks off at Old Trafford on Saturday when Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United host Swansea City. The two sides met on the opening day last season in which United won comfortably 4-1. A repeat of the same scoreline can be found at 22/1 with Bet365. New United captain Wayne Rooney needs 2 goals to move joint 3rd with Thierry Henry in the Premier League’s all time leading goalscorers and is priced at 11/2 with BetFair to do so.
Newcastle host champions Manchester City also in a repeat of last season’s opening fixture. City won emphatically 4-0 that day and are priced at 30/1 with BetVictor to repeat the feat. City to win to nil is 11/5 with Coral and could Frank Lampard make a goalscoring debut? He’s priced at 16/5 with Paddy Power to score anytime.
Southampton travel to Anfield in the first Super Sunday game and are priced at 9/1 with BoyleSports to cause an upset over Liverpool. They won 1-0 in the fixture last season, with Dejan Lovren, who has now made the move to Merseyside, scoring the decider. The Croatian is 9/1 with Ladbrokes to score on his Liverpool debut and Rickie Lambert, who has also made the move, is 11/8 with BetBright to score anytime.
Arsenal have not won on the opening day since 2009 and face a Crystal Palace side which surprisingly parted company with manager Tony Pulis just 2 days before the first game at the Emirates. If Pulis’ departure hasn’t put you off a shock Palace win, your best price is 14/1 with Bet365. Aaron Ramsey is 13/2 with BoyleSports to be first goalscorer as the Welshman looks to pick up where he left off last season.
How will the newly promoted sides fare on the opening weekend? An optimistic treble for Leicester, QPR and Burnley all to win this weekend is 80/1 with BetVictor, but in truth you’re more likely to see a return on a 9/1 treble on them all to lose.
Burnley host title favourites Chelsea on Monday night with new blues signing Diego Costa looking to impress on debut. He should see plenty of goalscoring opportunities and is 11/2 with Bet365 to score 2 or more and 25/1 to score a hat-trick. Another debutant Cesc Fabregas is 9/1 with Ladbrokes to be first goal scorer. Perhaps the best Burnley fans can hope for is a goal, and both teams to score is 6/5 with BetVictor.
Mauricio Pochettino’s first game as Tottenham managers sees his Spurs side host West Ham at White Hart Lane. The Hammers won the fixture last season and are tipped at 3/1 with BoyleSports to cause an opening day upset.
Similarly, Alan Irvine manages his first game as West Brom manager on Saturday afternoon. The Baggies host Sunderland and have won the last 3 games between the two sides. They’re priced at 13/10 with most bookmakers for an opening day win.
Aston Villa conceded the most fouls last season, so an outside bet of Stoke to be awarded a penalty when the sides meet at 5/1 (BetFair) could be a good punt.
Everton’s big money signing Romelu Lukaku will be looking to score on the opening day. He’s priced at 11/2 with BetVictor to be first goal scorer as Premier League football comes to the King Power Stadium.
The Premier League is back and promises to be one of the most exciting and competitive seasons yet. Which markets could you be backing in order to celebrate alongside the champions next May?
Chelsea are the favourites to lift their 4th Premier League trophy and are best priced at 2/1 with Paddy Power. Alternatives include Manchester City (13/5 with Coral), neighbours Manchester United (5/1 with most bookmakers) or will Brendan Rodgers guide his Liverpool team one place better than last season (12/1 with Bet Victor)? Arsenal like to make a good start and then fade away as the season draws to its climax so a 6/1 bet with Ladbrokes on them being top at Christmas could be worth a punt. A tricast of Manchester City 1st, Liverpool 2nd and Chelsea 3rd in a repeat of last season’s final standings is priced at 66/1 with BetFair.
Meanwhile at the other end of the table where is the value on clubs who may go down? West Brom are at 13/5 with Coral and will Sunderland not be as fortunate this season and be relegated (5/1 most bookmakers)? Swansea’s player exodus has resulted in them being 5/1 with Paddy Power and could be worth an outside bet. It could be a tough season for promoted Leicester, Burnley and QPR and Coral are giving odds of 20/1 to see all 3 go back down to the Championship.
Robin van Persie is the favourite with most bookies to finish as top goalscorer. The Dutchman is 5/1 with Bet Victor to lead the way, as well as Ladbrokes offering 16/1 for a van Persie/United double or a van Persie/City or Chelsea double at 14/1. Can Daniel Sturridge find the goals to replace Luis Suarez? The England forward is best priced at 6/1 with Paddy Power, as is Sergio Aguero. A City/Aguero double is priced at 9/1 with SkyBet or optimistic Liverpool fans can choose a Sturridge/Liverpool double at 33/1. Will Diego Costa provide the goals Chelsea were lacking last season? The Spaniard is 7/1 with BetFred to win the golden boot and a Costa/Chelsea double is 11/1 with SkyBet. Other options include Alexis Sanchez (16/1 with SkyBet), Romelu Lukaku (20/1 with most bookmakers) or maybe Yaya Toure will continue his impressive goalscoring form from last season (30/1 with Paddy Power).
Manchester City were the league’s top scorers last season and are priced at 13/8 with Paddy Power to repeat the feat. Chelsea on the other hand conceded the fewest and are favourites once again at 5/4 with Paddy Power. Everton were 3rd on that list last season and could be worth a punt at 33/1 (Paddy Power), particularly if Tim Howard can continue his World Cup heroics.
Tony Pulis has become the first managerial casualty of the new season before a ball has even been kicked. West Ham boss Sam Allardyce is the favourite for the chop next at 7/4 with Betway. Paul Lambert to lose his job next is 7/1 with most bookmakers although Garry Monk could be a good outside bet at 16/1 (SkyBet). 8 of the last 15 promoted managers have lost their jobs the following season and you can bet on Harry Redknapp at 14/1 (BetVictor), Nigel Pearson at 25/1 (William Hill) or Sean Dyche at 33/1 (BetVictor) to follow suit. Incidentally, no more managers to lose their job is priced at 150/1 with Coral, which would arguably be the biggest shock of the season.
7 doesn’t go into 4 and I hope that the owners of England’s 7 top clubs realise that.
The Premier League returns this weekend with the race for a top 4 finish never having been so competitive. Whilst some clubs will be vying for the title, gaining a Champions League spot is the priority with the amount of money that qualifying for the competition brings in. A top 4 finish has also began to influence sponsorship deals after it was revealed Adidas’ staggering £75m a year deal with Manchester United will be cut by 30% should United fail to qualify for the Champions League for the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons. And then there’s the problem that clubs who fail to qualify for the Champions League have in attracting the biggest names in world football to their club.
No wonder Tottenham Chairman Daniel Levy has sacked 6 managers in the last 10 years! But that highlights the very problem. There are only 4 Champions League spots available with 7 teams feeling they are capable of taking one. In fact, only 6 teams can be guaranteed European football. So which sides will miss out this season and how will the owners react?
When I grew up watching the Premier League there was the emergence of the ‘big 4’- Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. In the 6 seasons between 2003 and 2009 they comprised the top 4 places with the exception of 2004/05 when Everton took 4th spot. Going into a season there was rarely any doubt that these 4 sides wouldn’t make up the top 4, the main question was who would win the league.
That all changed in 2008 when the Abu Dhabi United Group bought Manchester City. It may have taken them a few years to build up their squad to compete with the elite, but in the 2010/11 season the club finished 3rd and qualified for the Champions League.
Liverpool subsequently slummed for a couple of seasons, Chelsea missed out under Andre Villas-Boas and it was Manchester United’s turn last season to fail to finish in the top 4.
With the start of the 2014/15 Premier League season about to get underway, we’ve got 7 teams going for 4 spots. Liverpool are back in contention after last season’s heroics and Manchester United have renewed optimism under Louis van Gaal. Everton and Tottenham are getting closer but you feel ultimately the 5 above them are a lot stronger. And this is all presuming there’s no other side who can surprise everyone and take a European place.
Out of the 7 teams there are arguably only 2 that everyone would agree will definitely finish in the top 4- Chelsea and Manchester City. Their spending power has already seen them both strengthen in the off season, with Chelsea most notably bringing in Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas to solve the problems they had in attack last season. Both sides also have the ability to spend big in January should they sit outside the top 4. The influence of the two managers also shouldn’t be underestimated. Manuel Pellegrini was a huge factor in City winning the league last season after bringing the off field calmness which Roberto Mancini struggled with maintaining. At Chelsea, Jose Mourinho knows how to win. Look at the 2-0 victory at Anfield last season. The Chelsea manager knows how to set his team up depending on the circumstances and has the tactical know-how to ensure his side pick up enough points for a top 4 finish.
At Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers faces two difficult questions this year. How does he replace Luis Suarez? And how does he better last season’s success? In truth, he will struggle to do either, but then it’s important to remember that Liverpool overachieved last season to finish 2nd. A top 4 finish is a priority and the belief is back at Anfield that it’s possible. The key will be tightening their defence this season, and the signing of Dejan Lovren could see them keep more clean sheets to stand them in better stead for a title challenge.
There’s plenty of optimism around Manchester United after the arrival of Louis van Gaal as manager, but the Dutchman doesn’t bring the guarantee of a top 4 finish. United hit rock bottom last season finishing an embarrassing 7th and will be keen not to repeat this. United still need new signings, particularly in defence. No European football at Old Trafford this season will give United an advantage over their rivals. You feel van Gaal will be given longer than David Moyes should results not improve on last season, but ultimately the threat of the 30% decrease in the Adidas deal could see the panic button being hit.
Of the 7 managers, it’s actually the longest serving that I worry for the most. Arsene Wenger has been brilliant in the past at consistently getting a top 4 finish for the Gunners without making any big name signings. Now the board have backed Wenger with the signing of Alexis Sanchez in addition to the club’s record signing of Mesut Özil last summer. How will Wenger repay the board? A top 4 finish is the aim, but what would failure to qualify for the Champions League mean for the Frenchman?
Last year’s FA Cup victory helped to overshadow what was a catastrophic collapse in Arsenal’s title challenge, but it has ensured there’s plenty of optimism around the Emirates compared to previous seasons. A 5th place finish would be seen as a step backwards.
Whilst many predict 4 of the 5 teams mentioned above will take the Champions League spots, Everton and Tottenham have been knocking on the door for years and will be looking to break into the top 4 this year. Everton have signed Romelu Lukaku for £28m, laying down a statement of intent. Roberto Martinez’s side were outstanding last season, and tying down Ross Barkley to a new 4 year contract is another statement that they are now ready to compete with the best.
Tottenham were able to turn their season around last year after Tim Sherwood took over but now he’s been replaced by Mauricio Pochettino who becomes their 7th manager in 10 seasons. Top 4 is the aim so what happens if they finish outside the Champions League spots? You’d think that Pochettino will be given more than one season to bring Champions League football to White Hart Lane, but we could well see history repeat itself.
When owners invest in their team and results don’t see a return on that investment, it’s the manager who pays the price. The pressure each of the top 7 managers are under to secure that top 4 finish has never been so great.
7 teams. 4 places. 3 must miss out. I hope the owners realise this.
Whilst most United fans will settle for a top 4 finish this season, the arrival of Louis van Gaal as manager, as well as impressive results in pre-season, have returned the belief to Old Trafford that Manchester United can once again be champions of England. Here’s 10 reasons why…
#1 Louis Van Gaal
After David Moyes’ dismissal last season, United have brought in Louis van Gaal as the man they believe will take them back to the top. A highly successful manager, the Dutchman has won the league title with all 4 of his previous clubs and guided the Netherlands to 3rd place at this year’s World Cup. The Dutchman is not afraid to make the big decisions, understands how to get the best out of his players and he doesn’t accept anything other than 100% from his team. He’s already made plenty of changes since his arrival a month ago and has the big club mentality needed to guide United to success.
One of van Gaal’s biggest changes is switching United to a 3-5-2 formation. The Dutchman claimed he has to set his team up this way as his squad is ‘unbalanced’ and it’s the only way to play everyone in their favoured positions. The system allows for an attacking central trio, with wingbacks and two defensive midfielders to assist the back 3. It’s worked wonders so far and could be key to Premier League success. See here for how van Gaal will accommodate his players in the new system.
#3 Ander Herrera
For a few seasons now United have been looking to bring in a central midfielder to replace Paul Scholes. Could new signing Ander Herrera be the answer? He scored 5 goals and 5 assists for Athletic Bilbao last season and his addition to the squad could be vital to any success.
#4 Last season hurt
United hit rock bottom last season. A 7th place finish was unacceptable and no-one knows this more than the players. Their reputations have been tarnished. This is a group of players with a winning mentality who are desperate to get back to their best. Everyone is predicting United to fare a lot better this time round.
#5 Pre-season results
Whilst it may only be pre-season, the results have given Manchester United fans plenty to be optimistic about. United demolished Real Madrid and edged out rivals Liverpool to win the International Champions trophy, with some brilliant attacking football that wasn’t visible during the whole of last season.
#6 Easy opening few games
Whilst winning the league is a marathon not a sprint, getting off to a good start is key to a title challenge. United’s first 5 games are against Swansea, Sunderland, Burnley, QPR and Leicester and is arguably an easier set of fixtures compared to last year which saw United face Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in their opening 5 games. Getting off to a winning start helps build momentum and a winning mentality.
#7 No European football
No European football at Old Trafford this season will help give van Gaal more time to implement his philosophy in training. Not having a midweek distraction every week will stand United in better stead compared to their title rivals and should keep the squad fresher than their opponents. It’ll also hurt to see the other big teams competing in Europe, and the players will be desperate to get back into the Champions League next season.
#8 Players have a point to prove
You can point the blame at David Moyes for last season, but the players should take responsibility for the way things turned out. They underperformed massively and will want to prove that they are still capable of competing for the title.
9) Rooney, van Persie and Mata
The new 3-5-2 system sees the attacking trio all playing in their favoured positions and could return United to the top. Juan Mata can play behind the strikers in a central role without the need to worry about chasing back and defending. Mata has linked up well with Rooney in pre-season, and if van Gaal can return Robin van Persie to his best form, the trio could be key to bringing United success.
10) Belief is back
‘The biggest club in the world’ is the phrase which van Gaal has used to describe his new club, and it has begun to be repeated by a few of the players already. David Moyes was criticised for saying Liverpool and Manchester City were favourites when they came to Old Trafford last season and that United needed to try and play more like them. You won’t hear that negative attitude from van Gaal. The Dutchman will make the players believe they are the best, giving them the right attitude to go and win back the title.