|Coral Challenge Cup Final|
|Venue: Wembley Stadium, London Date: Saturday, 24 August Kick-off: 15:00 BST|
Rugby league’s Challenge Cup is one of sport’s oldest and most prestigious knockout competitions, and its 118th year could produce one of the finest finals in its history.
Wembley beckons for St Helens and Warrington, the two leading lights in Super League in 2019, in their first final meeting in the competition.
Here are five reasons why, if you’re not already going to Wembley, you should tune into BBC One for Saturday’s game or watch it live on the BBC Sport website or app.
- Cup fever – 5 Live rugby league podcast
- St Helens’ Roby savours Wembley return
- Price & Holbrook – friends and foes
The best two in the league
If you are going to have a knockout cup competition, then you expect and want the very best players to be involved in it.
What a treat then to have the top two teams in Super League playing in the final.
Let’s look at the stats. Leaders Saints have scored 149 tries in 26 Super League games, and racked up 842 points.
Warrington are not far behind, with 111 tries from their 26 matches this season, and 676 points to their name.
This final promises much by way of entertainment.
Brave and tough athletes
Two players expected to feature at Wembley know all about the pitfalls.
Warrington back-rower Jack Hughes ruptured his testicle against Catalans Dragons but is included in the squad – however, even his agonies pale in comparison to Alex Walmsley.
The Saints and England prop broke his neck – coincidentally in a game against Warrington – and missed all but the opening five games of the season.
It was a long, torrid road back for the former Batley forward, but the prospect of a showpiece final has made it all worth it.
“It was a long 12 months and there were lots of doubts and questions, not just about Rugby but my general wellbeing,” Walmsley told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“It’s dreams about Wembley and getting back on the pitch and going to finals which gets you through those tough months.
“This is a big-game club that gets to big games and it’s so pleasing to know I’m back playing the game I love and now I’m just days away from Wembley.”
Rugby league is a physical game built around collisions and confrontations, in addition to skill and technique.
So it is a good job there is plenty of firepower about on both sides to ensure we get maximum bang for our buck.
Luke Thompson and Walmsley give Saints a massive go-forward, while Chris Hill and Mike Cooper are metre-eaters in the primrose and blue of the Wire.
“Walmsley, James Roby and Thompson are the best front row in the world; Hill, Daryl Clark and Cooper are good, but the Saints lads are better,” ex-Saints back-rower Jon Wilkin told the BBC Radio 5 Live podcast.
“The Warrington forwards have to do so much tireless work. I see Luke and Alex do something different. They hit the line hard and have leg speed, but it’s what they do in small areas, that intensity of defence.”
Former Great Britain coach Brian Noble added: “Alex is like a Transformer robot, just trying to get hold of him.”
Roby and Clark are among the best hookers in the world, both having played for England and in the frame for the Lions.
They will have plenty to play off on Saturday.
Josh Charnley and Tom Lineham can both shift and are right among the points for Warrington, while the Saints pair of Regan Grace and Tommy Makinson are also high-flying, quick off-the-mark points machines.
Makinson, who has a fine catalogue of airborne finishes, wants Saints’ season-long efforts to count for something tangible as they chase a first Challenge Cup in 11 years.
“For us to be remembered as one of the great St Helens teams, like others in the past, you have to win those big ones,” Makinson told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“That is our target every year; you pull on the Saints shirt and you are expected to win things and this year more than ever.
“We have been really good. For a few years we have been playing some really good Rugby, playing really well, wrapping up the League Leaders’ Shield in back-to-back years. But that is not as big a trophy as these two, the Grand Final and Challenge Cup.”
The history, legacy and ceremony of the event make it a big draw for southern hemisphere viewers, some of whom get up in the middle of the night to soak up the experience.
One player who has swapped the couch and a beer for the pitch is Warrington back-rower Jason Clark.
He moved to Super League from NRL side South Sydney Rabbitohs for 2019, and has already ticked off a bucket-list ambition.
“This time last year I was sat watching the Challenge Cup pretty early in the morning with [Souths half-back] Adam Reynolds, hoping that we could do it in 12 months’ time, and here we are sitting here,” Clark told BBC Sport. “Hopefully this weekend goes our way.
“I’ve learned a lot more about it (the Challenge Cup) in the past nine months, the boys talking about wanting to be there at the end of the year and here we are.
“I talked to [ex-Rabbitohs team-mate and England forward] Sam Burgess a few weeks ago and he said as a kid, it’s what you dreamed of doing, playing at Wembley. He was lucky to do so. There is a picture of him playing there, so I’ll have to find it!
“There is a big chance [the Aussie boys at Souths will be watching]. There are a few boys there that still stay in touch with me and send me a few messages, Damien Cook, ‘Reyno’ and the English boys – the Burgess twins and Sam and John Sutton. I’m sure they will keep a close eye on it.”