United Kingdom

Saints beat Castleford to win Challenge Cup

Castleford Tigers (12) 12
Tries: Evalds, Trueman Goals: O’Brien 2
St Helens (6) 26
Tries: Fages, Roby, Makinson, Amor Goals: Coote 3 Pens: Coote 2

St Helens won the Challenge Cup for the first time in 13 years as they overturned a half-time deficit to beat Castleford.

In his final season as Tigers boss, this looked to be Daryl Powell’s best hope of finally claiming silverware.

Castleford had hope as they overcame Theo Fages’ early try with replies from Niall Evalds and Jake Trueman.

But tries from James Roby, Tommy Makinson and Kyle Amor secured Saints’ 13th Challenge Cup triumph.

The reigning Super League champions had not won at Wembley since beating Hull FC in 2008 to seal a third consecutive cup success.

One consolation for the Tigers, who remain without a Challenge Cup triumph since 1986, was that Evalds was named man of the match – a rare honour for a player on the losing side.

The Lance Todd Trophy, chosen by the Rugby League Writers’ Association, went to the full-back, who suffered final heartbreak for a second successive season – having been part of the Salford side beaten by Leeds back in October.

Niall Evalds’ try helped him win the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match

Fortune favours the Saints

Saints’ last appearance in the showpiece came two years ago, when they lost 18-4 to Warrington – and they made a dazzling start in the scorching heat as they looked to avoid a repeat.

They had luck on their side too when a Jonny Lomax kick-through in the 10th minute came back off the post to bemuse the covering Oliver Holmes and Fages, starting in place of the suspended Sione Mata’utia, pounced from close range.

With Lachlan Coote adding the conversion, it was no more than they deserved.

Yet after their early dominance, Saints were stung by two beautifully-worked tries in nine minutes.

Peter Mata’utia’s clever kick sent the supporting Evalds clear to score and then, from Gareth O’Brien’s high bomb in the 25th minute, Trueman timed his jump better than Fages to touch down.

Fages departed the action at half-time with a shoulder injury, to be replaced by Jack Welsby.

But Saints then got another fortunate break from the video referee in the 42nd minute following two controversial calls – a possible knock-on from Mark Percival and then whether Regan Grace was in touch when he kept the ball alive to set up Roby to run in.

Coote’s conversion levelled the scores at 12-12 – and it proved a crucial moment.

Welsby’s brilliance nine minutes later helped Makinson dive over in the right corner and, although Coote missed the kick, two successful penalties extended the lead.

Forward Amor then burrowed over in the 78th minute before Coote converted to confirm victory for Kristian Woolf’s men.

It was cruel on the popular Powell, who is to leave Castleford for Warrington at the end of the season.

He lifted the cup with Leeds as a player in 1999, but lost against Bradford Bulls the following year – and he as now suffered three defeats as a coach.

The first was with Leeds in 2003 and now it has happened twice with Cas – this one being seven years on from his first against former club Leeds, in 2014.

Jake Trueman touches down for the try that put Castleford ahead at half time
Jake Trueman’s try for Castleford had put them ahead at half time

What they said

St Helens skipper James Roby told BBC Sport:

“It’s been a long time coming. I hope it’s not so long until we win it again.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be back here again, but it’s very special for me to be captain of this team. There’s definitely more to come from us. We’ve got the trophy and hopefully we can keep building.

“We probably started the better of the two teams but then the momentum swung. They got on top and half-time came at a good time for us.

“We then came out with a positive response and held out for the rest of the game. It was a really tough game, especially with the heat, but we got the job done.”

St Helens head coach Kristian Woolf told BBC Sport:

“It wasn’t a pretty win but the players were tough and resilient. This is something I’ve always wanted to be a part of. It’s a great atmosphere.

“James Roby? He’s outstanding, to be doing what he’s doing at his age. He certainly doesn’t look like slowing down at any stage.

“I can’t praise Theo Fages enough. He had the problem really early in the piece but he’s a tough little bugger and he tried to battle on.

“A couple of times he went to throw a pass and had no power. He made the decision at half-time because he felt he was letting the team down.”

Castleford coach Daryl Powell told BBC Sport:

“We came here and believed we could do it. We fell short but not as much as the scoreboard shows.

“The start to both halves really hurt us and the try after half-time was a bit of a killer for us.

“We’ve just got to get ourselves out of this and look ahead. We created opportunities but we weren’t quite clinical enough.

“It’s tough to take. It hurts physically when you lose games like these.”

Lance Todd Trophy winner Niall Evalds told BBC Sport:

“First half we were good, we were calm. Second half, credit to Saints. We weren’t good enough.

“The conditions were tough for everyone. They just had too much for us in the second half. They were the better side.

“It’s all a bit raw. It’s another final I’ve lost. I’m heartbroken, we all are.

“We want to come here again. We want to do it for all the people in our town.”

Theo Fages scored the first of St Helens' four tries to beat Castleford at Wembley
Theo Fages scored the first of St Helens’ four tries to beat Castleford at Wembley

Wembley in sunlight – not under the spotlight

Wembley was a different place just six days ago – and the recriminations of last Sunday’s Euro 2020 final, when ticketless fans stormed the stadium, will go on a lot longer yet.

But the Rugby League Challenge Cup final was the first game it has held since.

And this was a game that will be remembered for St Helens’ success in glorious sunshine.

The gate was down from last weekend’s official figure of 67,173, with up to 45,000 fans allowed in – but that is 45,000 more than last year when it was played behind closed doors.

And what a noise the Castleford and Saints supporters created.

In this Super League era, the Challenge Cup final may have lost some of the magic that made it such an annual end-of-season pilgrimage from the north of England for fans in early May.

Since it became a summer sport in 1996, it had found a new slot in the sporting calendar over the August bank holiday.

In the national spotlight, this first staging on its new mid-July date was pitched up against golf’s Open Championship and Formula 1’s British Grand Prix.

But, after last year’s ‘lost season’ played out to empty grounds following the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 final was a day that brought back some much-needed joy.

Castleford: Evalds; Olpherts, Mata’utia, Shenton, Turner; O’Brien, Trueman; Millington, McShane, Griffin, Holmes, Sene-Lefao, Massey.

Interchange: Watts, Milner, Foster, Smith.

St Helens: Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Thompson, Batchelor, Knowles.

Interchange: Lees, Amor, Paasi, Welsby.

Referee: Liam Moore.

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