Saturday sees two of Rugby League’s most successful clubs in the history of the sport go head-to-head at Headingley Carnegie Stadium (2.30pm) when Leeds Rhinos do battle against St Helens in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup fifth round.
Since the turn of the millennium, Rugby League’s oldest and most prestigious competition has been dominated by the Rhinos and Saints, with 12 out of the 14 finals since 2000 being attended by one of the two.
Last year’s final between Wigan Warriors and Hull FC was just the second time since 2000 that neither Leeds nor Saints played at the showcase event, though both teams are looking to put that right by overcoming the other and take one step closer to Wembley by reaching this year’s quarter-finals.
In years gone by there have been many enthralling battles between these two household Rugby League names, in all competitions.
2007 saw an epic tussle between the Rhinos and the Saints in a battle to become the best team in the land. St Helens had already lifted the Challenge Cup – the second of three consecutive tournament wins between 2006 and 2008 – and were on the lookout for a second double in as any years.
The then-defending Super League champions squeezed past the Rhinos in a thriller during the 2007 play-offs, as Saints’ two-point victory saw them reach the Grand Final leaving Leeds the task of beating Wigan Warriors if they wanted to reach Old Trafford and thwart Saints’ efforts to win an unprecedented consecutive domestic double.
The Rhinos duly defeated the Warriors 36-6 and proceeded to gain their revenge in the Grand Final, beating St Helens 33-6 – in the process holding Saints to a scoreless second half – to become 2007 Super League champions, beginning a run of six Super League Grand Final triumphs in seven years.
The Rhinos have not enjoyed quite the same success in chasing Challenge Cup glory since the turn of the millennium, however. 1999 was the club’s last triumph, despite reaching the final six times since then.
St Helens have lifted the trophy 12 times in their history – seven of those coming since 1996 – and will be looking to continue the Rhinos’ 14-year search for another Wembley win when the pair meet in West Yorkshire on Saturday.
Despite each club’s success throughout the beginning of the 21st century, the pair have not met in a Challenge Cup final since 1978, when 96,000 fans crammed into Wembley Stadium to witness Leeds edge past the Saints 14-12.