TURBULENT TIGERS | Wests Tigers' 2016 season was... interesting.
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Carnegie Challenge Cup Semi-Final review by Simon Reuben
Hot favourites Wigan Warriors held off a St Helens fightback to book their place in the Carnegie Challenge Cup Final for the first time in seven years.
St Helens, playing in their 11th successive Challenge Cup semi-final, were dealt a blow as influential scrum-half Kyle Eastmond was ruled out by injury.
The first half was a tight and tense affair with Saints having most of the possession, but they came up against the best defence in Super League as Wigan repelled everything that was thrown at them.
Eventually, the deadlock was finally broken on 25-minutes as Jamie Foster added a penalty goal to give St Helens a 2-0 lead.
On 33 minutes Wigan hit back and scored the only try of the half. Teenage winger Josh Charnley made the initial break from dummy half and despite a brilliant cover tackle by Paul Wellens, on the next play saw the ball quickly moved out wide for George Carmont to score. Pat Richards converted from the touchline as the Cherry and Whites went into the interval with a slender 6-2 lead.
Wigan made a strong start to the second half and they had a try chalked off by the video referee for obstruction. But they did not have to wait long as the ball was spread along the line and Charnley, showed his speed and awareness to cut inside the cover to score underneath the posts.
As the Warriors began to dominate they increased their lead to 18-2 as Sam Tomkins held off two defenders to stretch over the line. Brother Joel looked to have created the decisive try but his pass to Carmont was dropped and this sprung St Helens back to life.
Centre Francis Meli, turned the game around has he carved out two identical tries for Foster with smart offloads. The winger, who scored all of Saints points, kicked one successful conversion. So going into the last ten minutes it was game on as Saints only trailed by a converted try.
Brett Finch put a drop goal attempt wide and Richards missed a penalty but it was the clock that beat St Helens as Wigan held on for the win and for the first time since their shock loss to Sheffield Eagles in 1998, they will return to Wembley and give a great send off to coach Michael McGuire who returns home and the end of the season.
Wigan Warriors 18 (Carmont, Charnley, Tompkins tries. Richards 3 goals.) defeated St Helens 12 (Foster 2 tries. Foster 2 goals.) Att: 12,713 Played at Halliwell Jones Stadium Warrington
Leeds Rhinos earned themselves a second successive appearance in the Challenge Cup final by edging past local Rivals Castleford Tigers in a dramatic game after sudden death extra time.
After a week of speculation Castleford were boosted when influential stand-off Rangi Chase was named in the starting line-up.
For Leeds it was a record 43rd appearance in a semi-Final as they were looking to get back to Wembley to avenge last year's poor show against Warrington Wolves.
The first half both teams tested each other out as defences were on top. The Rhinos could have scored on at least two occasions but for two forward passes and some brilliant line defence, the same for Cas as they were also denied by some good scrambling defence.
It was Super League's record point scorer, Leeds skipper, Kevin Sinfield who kicked the only points of the half with a penalty goal on 23 minutes.
At the start of the second period the game came alive as first Ben Jones-Bishop made a solo run and Carl Ablett was denied a score as he put a foot in touch.
However, in a blink of an eyelid Rangi Chase broke the deadlock with superb individual effort. He broke down the left, dummying a pass inside before out sprinting Brent Webb to score in the corner. Kirk Dixon missed the conversion but made up for this later on as he tagged on a penalty goal to make it 6-2 in favour of the Tigers.
Some excellent scrambling defence kept Rob Burrow and Brett Delaney out as Leeds took the game to Castleford. On seventy minutes another penalty from Dixon meant the Rhinos had to score a converted try to draw level.
And the opportunity was given to the Rhinos as Castleford forward Ben Davies gave an unnecessary pass ,which went forward in his own twenty ,and this led to a brilliant back handed pass from Weller Hauraki which found Kallum Watkins who scored the important try. Sinfield kicked the conversion to make it 8-8 with just over five minutes left.
Both teams missed drop goal opportunities as the game headed to golden point extra time.
It was only a couple of minutes into extra time when the decisive moment of the game happened. Referee Phil Bentham ruled there had been a high tackle on Danny McGuire after he had made the line break and Sinfield coolly stepped up to kick the important goal that sent Leeds back to Wembley, at the end of the month to face old foes Wigan Warriors.
Leeds Rhinos 10 (Watkins try. Sinfield 3 goals.) in extra time, defeated Castleford Tigers 8 (Chase try. Dixon 2 goals.) Att: 13,158 Played at Keepmoat Stadium Doncaster
Castleford were very unlucky as they had given everything in this tense Semi-Final and just came up short.