Challenge Cup holders Hull FC defend their crown against Super League’s top team St Helens on Sunday June 3 in a matchup that will no doubt excite fans of rugby betting everywhere. Hull FC have won back-to-back titles, knocking off Warrington at Wembley in 2016 and then Wigan last year.
The Black & Whites are aiming for an incredible hat-trick of Cup wins. But standing in their way is Super League’s table-toppers St Helens. Saints last won the Challenge Cup a decade ago, a long time for a club of that stature, with 12 Cup trophies to its name. Now they are just two more wins away from a trip to the final at Wembley.
Hull FC have got to the quarter-final stage after a controversial and feisty win over Featherstone Rovers. The Black & Whites have been battling an injury crisis in recent weeks, with several key players missing. They have been forced to blood youngsters, sign new faces in and bring centre Kirk Yeaman out of retirement. But finally there is a bit of light at the tunnel.
Hull FC could have star stand-off Albert Kelly back for the match, while in-form playmaker Jake Connor will be available. There is also a possibility both prop Scott Taylor and utility Carlos Tuimavave could suit up against St Helens. Those four will make Lee Radford’s side a much more dangerous proposition.
But forward Joe Westerman is in severe doubt for the game with an elbow injury. The Black & Whites have won two of their past Super League games, an inconsistent record that would be better with a full complement of players. However, they seem to be appearing full fitness, which will help their chances in the quarter-final.
St Helens are high-flying and full of confidence, with only two losses from 16 games this season. Only Wakefield and Leeds have got the better of them so far in 2018. Coach Justin Holbrook has revitalized a team that was stagnating under Keiron Cunningham.
Saints and Hull FC have met once earlier this year, in round 10 in April, where the Red V prevailed 26-12 at Totally Wicked Stadium. A brace to Zeb Taia and tries to Mark Percival and Luke Thompson was enough to post a 14-point victory. St Helens’ forward pack, especially Taia, Jon Wilkin, Thompson, Kyle Amor and James Roby, led the way.
Hull FC will not only need to contain a giant pack but also a backline bustling with talent and speed. In freakish fullback Ben Barba St Helens have Super League’s top-scorer with 17 tries in just 14 games. Barba can create tries too – with 19 try assists, second highest in the competition behind Richie Myler– making him a real double threat. The Australian is the firm favourite to win the Man of Steel award this year.
But Saints are far from a one-man team. Centre Mark Percival is also lethal, and he has 14 tries and five try assists this season. Stand-off Jonny Lomax is in impressive form, with nine tries and nine try assists, while livewire winger Ryan Grace and experienced centre Ryan Morgan each have crossed nine times as well. With young halfback Danny Richardson pulling the strings, St Helens are a team with real attacking bite.
With St Helens on their home turf and on a six-game winning streak, it is no surprise that they are clear favourites in the quarter-final. Bet365 has a Saints win at 1/8, a Hull win at 5/1 and a draw at 33/1. William Hill has similar odds with St Helens 1/6, the Black & Whites at 4/1 and the draw at 25/1.
Betfair has St Helens at 1/10, Hull at 5/1 and the draw at 40/1. The best value is not in picking a Saints’ winner, but in selecting the margin of a Red V victory. Bet365 has St Helens winning by one to five points at 15/2, by six to 10 points at 11/2, 11 to 15 points at 6/1, 16 to 20 points at 7/3 and 21 to 25 points at 8/1.
Considering the last time these two met, going for an 11 to 15-point win at odds to 6/1 offers real value. William Hill has several special options that are worth a look. St Helens to win, and either Barba or Grace score the first try is set at 7/2.
The try-scorer markets have Barba as first scorer at 13/2, Grace at 7/1, Adam Swift at 8/1, Tom Makinson at 8/1, Percival at 9/1, Morgan at 10/1 and Lomax at 12/1. These offer the punter plenty of excellent choices. With Barba, Percival, Grace and Morgan finding the try-line regularly, and all are a decent bet to cross come Sunday