Saturday afternoon sees the first showpiece final of 2018 as Catalans face Warrington Wolves at Wembley with the French team ranked as outsiders, according to the bookmakers at least.
However, as Josh Drinkwater revealed to Get ’em Onside this week, the Dragons will be confident as they head to the national stadium for the second time in their history. A run which began with a victory away to York City Knights has also seen Steve McNamara’s Catalans beat Whitehaven and Huddersfield Giants before toppling league leaders St Helens in sensational fashion in the semi-final. That result will no doubt have given the Dragons the belief that they can take the historic step of becoming the first French team to win the Challenge Cup – as will their sensational form since April, the club having won eleven of their last sixteen matches between beating Hull FC at the end of that month and beating St Helens in the semi-final. Since that match, the club have lost their last two matches heavily against their final opponents and Wigan Warriors. Those defeats, however, were with many senior players absent or rested and fans shouldn’t read too much into those matches.
Sure to have the majority of the neutrals at Wembley backing them, the Dragons have an almost full-strength squad available for their first final in over ten years with only Greg Bird (suspended) and Jodie Broughton (injured) missing from their nineteen man squad. Dangerous forward Kenny Edwards is available after avoiding a ban following an incident during the semi-final while Tony Gigot and Brayden Williame – who signed a new contract this week – have overcome injuries to be included.
They will be keen to take the field to take on Steve Price’s Warrington as the Australian aims to win the season’s first piece of silverware in his first year at the club. Bradford Bulls, Toronto Wolfpack and Wigan Warriors were all defeated by the Halliwell Jones Stadium club en route to their big semi-final victory over Leeds Rhinos earlier this month and the team boast two of the top three points scorers in the competition this year, Bryson Goodwin and Josh Charnley. Those two – one on each flank – are likely to be key for the Wolves on Saturday afternoon and both are among the clutch of faces in Warrington colours who have joined since their poor 2017 campaign ended. Under the stewardship of Price, the Wire have improved immeasurably from last year’s efforts and their consistency and quality mean that their final appearance – and top four place currently – are entirely deserved.
Among the nineteen man squad named by Price is a huge amount of Challenge Cup final experience. Daryl Clark, Jack Hughes, Toby and George King, Ben Westwood, Stefan Ratchford, Ryan Atkins and Chris Hill were all involved in the 2016 final defeat to Hull FC while the latter four lifted the trophy in 2012. Atkins featured on the losing side in 2010, something former Castleford hooker Clark experienced when his hometown team lost to Leeds in 2014. That isn’t to mention the experience of the likes of Goodwin from his time in the NRL which leaves one to suggest that the know-how in the Wolves ranks could benefit them in their quest for their first Challenge Cup trophy in six years. Only Sitaleki Akauola is a new absentee for the Cheshire club after failing with his appeal over a one match ban but, importantly for Warrington, Atkins and Harvey Livett – one of the team’s most impressive performers in 2018 – have been included after injury.
A superb match is surely ahead of fans who are set to converge on the capital for one of rugby league’s two big days out and, whoever wins, it will be a superb story. Either the Dragons overcome all of the history of rugby league in France and an incredible turnaround in 2018 and become the first non-English winner of the trophy or Steve Price wins a trophy in his first year in the English game with a team who, this time last year, were in The Qualifiers after a poor season.
Catalans Dragons nineteen man squad: Anderson, Baitieri, Bousquet, Casty, Drinkwater, Edwards, Garcia, Gigot, Goudemand, Jullien, Langi, McIlorum, Mead, Moa, Simon, Thornley, Tierney, Wiliame, Yaha
Warrington Wolves nineteen man squad: Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, Atkins, K Brown, Roberts, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Hughes, Murdoch-Masila, Patton, Philbin, T King, G King, Livett, Smith, Charnley, Westwood