Challenge Cup final – Saturday 24 August 2013
Getting short of total points appeals as the best bet on the Challenge Cup final betting card between Wigan and Hull, a rematch of the 1985 championship game that many rugby league fans describe as the greatest game to decide the most famous competition ever.
Bookmakers have set the line at around the 45.5-point mark and, given the recent performances of both Wigan and Hull, as well as their Super League XVIII statistics, there does seem to be more chance of the total going under than over.
Wigan is the warm favourite to win what would be its 19th Challenge Cup but its form in recent weeks means that there will be many punters willing to either back Hull outright or in receipt of a handicap start. Since thrashing London 70-0 to qualify for the Wembley Stadium showpiece, Wigan has been unimpressive in beating Hull Kingston Rovers 21-16 at home, losing 12-30 to Huddersfield at home and going down 8-22 to Catalan Dragons away. To be fair, Wigan has not played well in Super League XVIII for about three months and, although the Cherry and Whites have a class edge over their final foes, it is a leap of faith to back them to prove it.
Even though Hull has a couple of injuries, the Airlie Birds are probably playing their best rugby league of the year at the moment. Hull has won three Super League XVIII matches on the spin, crushing Widnes 72-10 at home, defeating Hull Kingston Rovers 38-20 on its city rival’s turf and edging Salford 18-13 at home. And if one looks at the opponents that Hull and Wigan have had in common lately, one would have to say that the Airlie Birds come out on top.
Certainly one could make a decent case for backing Hull in receipt of a double-figure start. Hull and Wigan are meeting for only the second time this year after the Cherry and Whites won the Super League XVIII clash 28-20 on the banks of the River Humber. However, Hull was understrength for that game – for example, neither stand-off Daniel Holdsworth or second-row forward Gareth Ellis took to the field for the Airlie Birds – so it is not worth taking all that seriously.
Wigan won the first match between these 2 teams this season. Can they do it again in the Challenge Cup final?
But backing the Challenge Cup final to feature fewer than 46 points is the way to go. Wigan’s performance versus Catalan Dragons was littered with so many handling errors that it was what rugby league tragics call a knockonathon. Wigan’s attack has not fired against a good opponent – London does not count – for ages so the Cherry and Whites may struggle to break 20 points. Only twice in its last seven Super League XVIII matches has Wigan reached 20 points. Wigan’s defence has remained strong even though its attack has hit hard times. Wigan has missed only 467 tackles during Super League XVIII, which is 35 fewer than any other team.
As well as Hull has played in the last month or so, it has failed to get past 20 points on a number of occasions. Hull has not scored 20 or more points in three of its last five Super League XVIII games. Also supporting the recommended Challenge Cup final play is the fact that Hull has missed only 505 tackles in Super League XVIII – the Airlie Birds are ranked third behind Wigan and Warrington – and the propensity of the underdog to kick away possession. Hull has made more kicks in general play than any other Super League XVIII side. Finally, Hull leads the team total tackle count.
The Lance Todd Trophy is the prize that rugby league writers award to the Challenge Cup final man of the match. Rarely does it go to a lesser name so, if one thinks that Hull has a decent chance of upsetting the odds, Airlie Birds captain Ellis could be worth a small investment at around 21/1 currently available with Coral and Bet Victor.
Ellis missed the first half of Super League XVIII because he sustained a nasty pre-season foot injury. It is no surprise that Hull’s results have improved since Ellis got back to full fitness and, having returned to England following a successful spell playing for Wests Tigers in the National Rugby League competition, he will be the focus of a lot of attention at Wembley Stadium. Journalists love a good story and Ellis winning the Lance Todd Trophy would be one.