RUGBY League’s credibility and relevance in the wider sporting world was cranked up by several notches thanks to the two Coral Challenge Cup semi-finals which went across the nation on terrestrial television.
Can anyone ever again cast doubt on the Challenge Cup’s status in the rugby league calendar after what we saw in Warrington’s 22-14 defeat of Hull and especially in Halifax’s magnificent effort when going down 26-2 to runaway Super League leaders St Helens?
As the pundits were quick to point out, Halifax did themselves, their club, the Championship and the sport itself proud by their fierce determination against astronomical odds not to be over-run and humiliated by the best Saints side we have seen for years, writes ROGER HALSTEAD,
Isn’t that what the Challenge Cup is all about?
Try telling the part-timers in blue and white that they weren’t worthy of gracing such a special occasion.
Try telling their fans that they had no right to have the chance to get behind their lads on the big stage.
And try telling this magnificent Saints side that they should have walked it into the final at Wembley on August 24.
To their immense credit, Saints and their Aussie boss accepted they had been given a rough ride by a mid-table Championship side and were fulsome in their praise of the Yorkshire part-timers.
It took a master craftsman like James Roby to break Fax hearts a couple of minutes before half time but even in the second half, when Saints played the wet conditions better and looked more like their old selves, the underdogs worked and worked and kept on working to walk off at the end with heads held high.
They’re not quite on a million quid a week these guys; nor are Saints for that matter; but that’s another story for another time.
For now, let’s savour the magic of the Challenge Cup; recall what Oldham did to Hull KR at Craven Park a year or two back; and dish out the plaudits to Halifax for proving beyond any shadow of doubt that the nerve, the heartbeat and the bedrock of our great sport extends far beyond Super League and the elite competition.
It’s the pinnacle, of course it is, but there’s a lot more to rugby league than Super League — and a big thank-you to Halifax for again ramming that message home (as Roughyeds did at Craven Park) on a day when rugby league showed the sporting world that it has such a lot going for it.
Those who have cast doubts about the relevance of the Challenge Cup, and of Wembley, in the modern era, will surely have revised their thoughts after watching these two semi-finals.
This was Halifax’s final — not so for Saints, Warrington and Hull.
They wanted Wembley so much that it hurt. For the winners, and losers, it was a day packed full of emotion and a burning desire to get there.
At the end of the first semi, a Warrington player broke down and shed bucketfuls of tears.
And he was a winner . . . doesn’t that say it all ?