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Challenge Cup - Rugby League: Semi-Finals Preview

The Challenge Cup reaches its semi-final stage on Saturday with both tantalising last-four ties taking place on neutral ground at Elland Road in Leeds.

The double-header in Leeds is headlined by one of the sport's oldest derbies as defending champions St Helens and Wigan Warriors clash at 14:30, before Huddersfield Giants take on Hull KR at 17:00.

With a new venue hosting the final, all four teams will be doing all they can to book their place in the showpiece at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 28th May.

Saints are storming on

The old cliche of form going out of the window in the cup competitions often rings true, but if recent history tells us anything, St Helens - 8/13 to retain the Challenge Cup - should have too much for 10/3 Wigan in the opening semi.

Saints stepped on the gas in the second half to beat their rivals 22-4 on Good Friday, with tries from Joe Batchelor and Mark Percival seeing them home.

Record 19-time winners Wigan will have spent the intervening period looking to tweak their tactics for Saturday and will hope that playing on neutral territory in Leeds will act as a leveller.

Warriors coach Matty Peet will also point to Saints' mixed showing in Friday's 14-10 win over Salford.

However, opposite number Kristian Woolf will see that result as evidence of his side's ability to get the job done when struggling, furthering suggestions that they are on course for another successful season - with an unprecedented fourth straight Grand Final victory available at 1/1.

Pack can be the difference

Saints' mobile forwards made the difference in their Easter Weekend win and with added pace and skill in behind, they are the complete team.

Peet and his coaching staff of Lee Briers and Sean O'Loughlin have undoubtedly made the Warriors far more attractive and it promises to be an open and exhilarating game on Saturday.

With this a one-off match, Wigan's 1/1 with a +7.5 start could be worthwhile, but Saints' dominance in recent years places them a class above and their 2/5 in the match betting is well earned.

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Smith inspiration could be crucial for KR

Hull KR have only ever won the Challenge Cup once in their history, Steve Hubbard starring as they beat local rivals Hull FC 10-5 at Wembley in May 1980.

Their most recent trip to the final came in 2015 when they went down by a record 50-0 against a rampant Leeds Rhinos outfit.

However, it has been all change at the club since then and they have extra motivation to win silverware this season with head coach Tony Smith set to depart.

The Australian has been pivotal to their improvement, guiding them to the semi-finals of the Super League play-offs in 2021 and they are 8/1 to win the Challenge Cup this season.

KR head down the M62 on the back of a 12-0 defeat to the Rhinos, a result that ended a run of five straight wins in all competitions.

Opponents Huddersfield Giants won the pair's previous meeting 26-12 and recorded a timely victory last Thursday as they triumphed 14-12 at Wakefield Trinity.

The Giants - 6/1 to lift the trophy - have won the Challenge Cup on six occasions but not since 1953 and their most recent final appearance saw them on the wrong end of a 25-16 scoreline against Warrington Wolves in 2009.

Like Smith, Giants coach Ian Watson is a fine tactician who focuses on long-term success rather than quick fixes and it promises to be a fascinating battle.

Disciplinary woe

Games are often won up front and both teams have received blows in the build-up.

KR prop Albert Vete will serve the first of a two-game ban following a high tackle against Leeds, while Giants front-rower Matty English has been suspended for one game for a dangerous contact offence against Trinity.

Huddersfield, 8/13 in the match market, are already without half-back Jack Cogger for disciplinary reasons, but the injury to Kane Linnett is arguably a bigger blow for the Robins.

Even so, the motivation to avenge that heaviest-ever final defeat could spur the squad on, as could seeing Smith out in style with a trophy.

While they are behind on the handicap, KR's match odds of 11/8 might prove a real price.

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