All sixteen teams for #NRL Round 1 are in!
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No Superleague games this weekend, as instead we focus attention on the Challenge Cup Semi Finals. This year?s knockout competition has eliminated amateur teams, club sides from Russia and France, lower division British sides, and Superleague clubs, and now we are left with our final four. Who will win through to the Challenge Cup Final at Twickhenham on 26 August?
Semi Final One: Hull Kingston Rovers (NL1) v St Helens
Saturday 29 July, 12:30pm, Galpharm Stadium (Huddersfield)
Hull Kingston Rovers are the sole National League One side to win through to this year?s semi-finals, having defeated Warrington, Featherstone (NL2), Hunslet (NL2), and York Acorn (amateur) along the way. Hull KR are sitting undefeated on top of the NL1 table, however recently lost the National Leagues knockout cup final to promotion rivals Leigh. Coach Justin Morgan came to Hull KR after success with French side Toulouse, who made last year?s Challenge Cup semi-final only to go down to Leeds. He has a well drilled side including players with NRL or Superleague experience in half back Jimmy Webster, winger Leroy Rivett, props David Tangata-toa and Francis Stephenson, and backrowers Michael Smith and Iain Morrison.
However the firm favourites will be St Helens, who sit atop the Superleague ladder three wins clear of their nearest rivals. On their way to this year?s semi-finals they have beaten Catalans, Bradford, and Doncaster (NL1). St Helens have named a near full strength squad for the match, missing only their captain Paul Sculthorpe through long-term injury, and halfback Sean Long tipped to make a return after missing the past two matches with a leg problem. Jamie Lyon was cleared to play after being sent off for a late tackle last week against Leeds and not receiving a suspension. Hull KR will definitely take the game to St Helens, but it will be a tough ask for the underdogs to get the victory here.
Semi Final Two: Leeds Rhinos v Huddersfield Giants
Sunday 30 July, 3:00pm, Grattan (Odsal) Stadium (Bradford)
Huddersfield have overcome Salford, York (NL1), and Halifax (NL1) on their way to this year?s semi-finals, and a victory here and a place in the Challenge Cup Final would come as a huge highlight for a club that has struggled during the Superleague years. Currently sitting seventh on the Superleague table, the club will hope to continue its momentum towards a possible top six finish with a win over their more fancied rivals. Huddersfield have lost to Leeds twice in league matches this season, but are more than capable of the upset, having been the team to put an end to leaders St Helens? undefeated run. They will be looking to their forwards to match the Leeds pack and then for the creativity of Chris Thorman, Robbie Paul and Brad Drew to bring some points.
Leeds were runners up in the Challenge Cup final last year, and will be looking to go one better with a win to qualify for this year?s final. The Rhinos are in equal second on the Superleague ladder and having beaten Harlequins, Rochdale (NL1) and Leigh (NL1) along the way to the semi-finals, need to bounce back after recent losses to Castleford and St Helens. Leeds are without Gold Coast bound fullback Richie Matthers due to long-term injury, but otherwise have named a full-strength squad with some concern over stand off Danny McGuire who copped a knock last week. Recent recruit Clinton Toopi will not arrive in time to be considered for this game, and prop Jamie Thackray is ineligible having played a Cup match for Hull earlier in the season. Leeds at their best are a creative and fast paced team, will be favourites here but it?s a match that could easily go either way.
Both matches are televised live on BBC free-to-air across the UK, with radio commentary for Saturday?s game on BBC Radio Five Live, and for Sunday?s game (probably) on BBC Radio Leeds.
In NZ on Sky Sports Hull KR-St Helens is a delayed telecast at Sunday 1:30pm, Huddersfield-Leeds is broadcast live at Monday 2:00am, with replays on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively at 8:00am.
In Australia both games will be delayed telecasts on Fox Sports: Hull KR-St Helens at Sunday 12:30pm, Huddersfield-Leeds at Monday 6:00am.