The Challenge Cup is the oldest and most prestigious knockout tournament in rugby league, and the final is always one of the biggest events on the calendar. This year's match sees Hull FC take on Wigan, and promises to be thoroughly entertaining. All the action kicks off at Wembley Stadium in London from 3:00pm GMT, Saturday August 26th.
A Little Bit of History
The rugby league Challenge Cup has been held annually in England since 1896, and mirrors the soccer FA Cup in that any team, amateur or professional, can apply to participate. Over the years there have been 26 different winners of the trophy, although since the beginning of the Super League era in 1996 the tournament has been shared between just seven different clubs, all of whom play in the nation’s top division.
Two of those clubs are Hull FC and Wigan Warriors, and the pair will once again participate in a Challenge Cup final in 2017. Wigan have already featured in a record 31 finals, with their 19 wins making them the most successful team in the history of the tournament. Their last victory came in 2013 and was also against Hull; Wigan dominated a low-scoring match that finished 16-0.
Hull FC have one of the poorest records in the game when it comes to Challenge Cup finals. They have made it to the big match on 16 occasions, which ranks them 5th overall, yet have only managed to lift the cup four times, giving them a success rate of 25% and placing them in 10th in terms of most wins. Hull have been involved in two Challenge Cup draws throughout history, and their last two final victories were decided by just one and two points respectively.
Hull’s latest triumph was in 2016 when they defeated Warrington 12-10. The match was memorable as Hull were trailing 10-0 with just twenty minutes to go, before coming back to claim victory. It was their first victory at Wembley Stadium and the result means that they will go into the 2017 fixture as defending champions. Hull have only had one previous chance to win consecutive finals – they lost to Featherstone Rovers in 1983 after defeating Widnes one year earlier.
Speaking of consecutive finals, Wigan also hold the record for the most wins in a row – they managed eight straight Challenge Cup victories between 1988 and 1995. In an era of dominance, they also completed the ‘double’ (winning both the Super League title and the Challenge Cup in the same season) on six straight occasions between 1989 and 1994.
So who is most likely to win this year’s event? Will Wigan add a twentieth title to their bulging trophy cabinet and pull even further ahead of closest rivals Leeds Rhinos, or will Hull record their first ever back-to-back championship and avenge their 2013 loss? Check out the odds below, followed by our analysis and fearless prediction.
The Favourite – Wigan Warriors
Wigan’s road to the Challenge Cup final was reasonably straight forward; their status as one of the top Super League clubs from last season means that they went straight into the sixth round of the competition, where only 16 teams remain. After comfortably dispatching Swinton Lions 42-12 in their first match, Wigan travelled to Warrington to take on the Wolves, the team they had defeated in the 2016 Super League Grand Final.
This match almost saw the Warriors exit at the quarter final stage – the result ended in a 27-26 victory for the visitors, although Warrington had a late penalty and a late drop-goal attempt that both missed the mark. We could be talking about a totally different final if that were the case, however Wigan surged forward and into the semi-finals, where they defeated Salford 27-14.
Wigan are slight favourites to win this year’s final, however their 2017 form is certainly a concern. Although they won the 2016 Super League competition, their title defence has been extremely shaky. The Warriors finished the 23-match regular season in seventh position, just three points clear of the bottom four and a whopping seventeen points behind runaway leaders Castleford Tigers.
Wigan are coming off back-to-back victories in the Super Eight stage of the Super League season, with recent wins over Salford and Huddersfield, so they are at least coming into the match with some wind in their sail. But a Challenge Cup final doesn’t necessarily play out according to form, and perhaps it will be Wigan’s experience that gets them over the line in this one. Their odds are set at -125 for the big match.
The Defending Champions – Hull FC
Hull’s trip to the 2017 Challenge Cup final was reasonably similar to that of the Warriors – they too entered the competition in the sixth round and won comfortably in their first match, smashing the Catalans Dragons 62-0. In the quarter finals, Hull upset Super League leaders Castleford in a 32-24 home victory, before another reasonably straight-forward win against the Leeds Rhinos saw them progress to Wembley.
2016 was a great year for Hull FC; they managed an exciting come-from-behind victory to win their first Challenge Cup title since 2005, while they also went into the Super Eight stage as league leaders with a 17-6 record. At the same stage in the 2017 Super League season, Hull were third with a record of 13-1-9; an indication of a very tight competition that saw Wigan finish in seventh just four points behind.
Hull’s recent results have been mixed, and they are coming off a 46-18 home thrashing at the hands of Huddersfield. While you could put this down to having one eye on the Cup, it certainly isn’t ideal preparation for the big match. This could be the reason that Hull enter the match as outsiders at +100, although you could also put it down to their poor historical performances in the big match.
Head to Head Results
Hull FC and Wigan have played each other twice in the 2017 Super League regular season. The first encounter was played at the DW Stadium, home of the Warriors, and on this occasion Hull managed to hold on for a 22-20 victory in a match where they lead 22-0 early in the second half. The second match also went Hull’s way at home, in a high-scoring affair that finished 39-26.
Hull also defeated Wigan in the semi-final stage of the 2016 Challenge Cup, winning the match by 16-12 and perhaps eliminating some of the demons that still existed from the 2013 final, the last match between the sides in the competition. However, Wigan got their revenge almost instantly with a playoff victory in the Super League finals, winning the match 28-18.
Challenge Cup Prediction
This is a tough one to pick. Hull FC have dominated the head-to-head matchup so far in 2017 and will take confidence from the fact that they have already overcome Wigan on two occasions this season. Their recent form is a minor concern, as is their historical record at Wembley, although neither should affect their play on Saturday.
Wigan should also be confident that they will come home with the trophy based on their excellent Wembley record. While they may have the regular season losses to Hull in the back of their mind, this is a one-off event and form won’t be a big factor.
We are going with Hull FC in this match, although it should be an extremely tight contest. Both head-to-head matches have gone their way in 2017 and we see this one ending in similar fashion. They also present better betting value at +100, so jump on now.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with our prediction? As always, you can join the conversation on Facebook and discuss the match with other fans. Enjoy the game!
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