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Official Challenge Cup Semi Finals-Saturday game: Hull FC vs St Helens. Sunday game: Leeds Rhinos vs Toulouse.
Hull aim to burst Saints bubble
Hull, the last team to inflict defeat on St Helens, will be aiming to burst their bubble in Saturday?s Powergen Challenge Cup semi-final at Huddersfield?s Galpharm Stadium.
Double-chasing Saints have won nine and drawn one of their 10 matches since the appointment of new coach Daniel Anderson in May and are firm favourites to reach a fourth final in five years.
Anderson?s honeymoon period has contained a couple of close shaves, including an 18-10 League win over Hull at Knowsley Road, but former coach Ian Millward has tipped them to go through the rest of the season undefeated and skipper Paul Sculthorpe insists there is no reason why the bubble should burst.
?I don?t see why it has to,? he said. ?You can?t look past each game but, if we concentrate week in week out and get our game right, there is no reason why we can?t win each game. We don?t have to lose. It?s up to the players to keep their concentration.?
Saints, who had seven regulars missing they when beat Hull three weeks ago, are boosted by the return of Great Britain internationals Sean Long, Paul Wellens, Paul Anderson and Paul Sculthorpe.
But it is worth pointing out that all four played in their 44-6 thrashing at the KC Stadium in May, when Saints? only absentee was centre Willie Talau and Hull lacked inspirational captain Richard Swain as well as Motu Tony and Chris Chester.
Hull, too, are now virtually at full strength, with the return of key quartet Paul Cooke, Shaun Briscoe, Paul King and Shayne McMenemy, and coach John Kear, who once turned down the chance to coach St Helens, believes Saturday?s game could be too close to call.
?You can?t read a thing into the two games between us so far this season," he said. "Each game is different and there are different circumstances.
?Our job all week has been trying to plan and prepare for all the different scenarios that could arise but you can?t cover everything, which is the beauty of sport. The very fact that it?s a different venue poses it?s own problems.
?They?ll have a very strong team out, as will we. What you can say about any game between two Super League sides is that it will be competitive because everybody is capable of beating each other and that will be the case on Saturday. It really is a one-off occasion.?
If it comes down to game-breakers, Saints look to have all bases covered with an array of world-class stars capable of winning the match single-handedly.
They are appearing in their fifth successive semi-final and the addition of Jamie Lyon, Paul Anderson and Vinnie Anderson more than compensates for the loss of three members of last year?s Cup-winning squad.
Lyon is in the form of his life and Hull will need no reminding of Sculthorpe?s capabilities after he came up with the decisive drop goal, followed by a clinching try, in Saints? 31-26 quarter-final win over them at Knowsley Road last season.
?It?s a bonus that we?ve played in so many big games,? admitted Sculthorpe. ?The guys are experienced and know what?s needed in big games. But they?ve a lot of players who have played in Test matches and they will be up for it. It?s a massive game for their club.?
History certainly points to a St Helens win. Hull have not beaten their opponents in the Cup for almost 70 years and, since reaching their last final in 1985, they have been beaten in all three of their semi-final appearances.
Kear, who masterminded Sheffield Eagles? stunning Wembley win over Wigan in 1998 and has already guided Hull past three Super League opponents on their way to the last four, is confident of pulling off another upset.
?There is no doubt that there is more pressure on St Helens as they?re the favourites,? he said. ?I think we?re 9-1 as the third-ranked horse in a field of four so I think we?re worth ?2 of anyone?s money.
?I have a good feeling about any game that we?ve prepared well for. We?ve prepared really well all week and I just feel that, if my players perform well, with the quality we have in our squad, that they will give themselves every chance of success and I?m very very certain that they?ll perform very well.?
Hull have omitted Kirk Dixon and Chris Chester from their 20-man squad while Saints have left out Mark Edmonson and Ian Hardman.
Hull v St Helens, Galpharm Stadium, Saturday July 30
Hull 18-man: Barnett, Briscoe, Brough, Carvell, Cooke, Dowes, G. Horne, R. Horne, Kearney, King, McMenemy, Raynor, Saxton, Swain, Thackray, Tony, Whiting, Yeaman.
St Helens 18-man: Albert, P. Anderson, V. Anderson, Bennett, Cunningham, Fozzard, Fa?asavalu, Gardner, Gilmour, Graham, Hooper, Lyon, Long, Roby, Sculthorpe, Talau, Wellens, Wilkin.
Referee: A Klein
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Senior wary of Toulouse threat
Leeds? acting captain Keith Senior has vowed not to under-estimate Toulouse in Sunday?s Powergen Challenge Cup semi-final despite the French outsiders being written off on both sides of the Channel.
Steve Deakin, English coach of engage Super League-bound Union Treiziste Catalane, has dismissed Toulouse?s prospects of reaching the August 27 final in Cardiff despite their comfortable quarter-final win over Widnes in the south of France.
?I gave them a chance of beating Widnes because it was red hot and Widnes have a fair few older men in their squad,? said Deakin, whose side meet Toulouse in the French Championship final next Saturday.
?That?s not going to be the case this time. Toulouse have to do the travelling and Leeds are obviously a bit better than Widnes.?
Great Britain centre Senior, who is leading the Rhinos in the absence of the injured Kevin Sinfield, was impressed by Toulouse?s 40-24 victory over the Vikings and says the Super League champions have been preparing meticulously for the clash at Huddersfield?s Galpharm Stadium.
?Everybody is saying we will have no problem but they showed against Widnes that they have got quality,? he said. ?They are an unknown force but we know they can attack and we have been reviewing the videos and working hard on our defence.?
While Toulouse are celebrating becoming the first French team to reach the last four, Leeds will be appearing in their 11th semi-final in the last 13 seasons.
They are a short-priced bet to complete the league and cup double but their recent defeat by London Broncos, ironically in the south of France, has given Toulouse hope.
?I thought maybe they were just off their game a little bit that day but it gave us some food for thought,? said coach Justin Morgan. ?They are not unbeatable and, if London can beat them, there is a possibility that we might be able to.?
Morgan, who will take over as coach of Hull KR after next week?s championship final in Narbonne, is a realist, however, and admits his side need to pull off the biggest shock in Challenge Cup history if they are to reach the Millennium Stadium.
?Leeds are a fantastic side,? he said. ?They deserve the world champions tag that they have got. They have size and mobility even outside their pack of forwards and obviously Rob Burrow is a fantastic player, exceptionally speedy.
?Our guys are looking forward to playing that calibre of player. We have been doing some work this week on trying to contain their big men and their offloading ability.?
One Toulouse player who will need little introduction to the Rhinos is former Leeds forward Tommy Gallagher, a Great Britain academy international who caught the eye in the Widnes tie.
?He has had a new lease of life, it must be the French air,? said Senior. ?A lot of lads keep in touch with him and they have been having a few jibes this week.
?He will be looking forward to it as much as we are. He is a young kid who went there to get first-team experience and no doubt he will come back a better player.?
Morgan, who arrived with his team in time to watch the first semi-final between Hull and St Helens, said: ?Tom has a desire to be involved in Super League again.
?I have said to all the players the stage just gets bigger and, if they have the desire to go on to bigger and better things, now is the chance to show people that they can do it.?
Many thanks to www.superleague.co.uk for the above previews.