SAINTS kick off their 2024 Challenge Cup campaign on Friday night with a return visit to Headingley - the place of last week’s 18-8 victory.

That Super League encounter set the scene for what is always an eagerly anticipated Challenge Cup clash, given the number of memorable encounters between the sides in the game’s oldest knockout competition.

And there will be a hunger about the Saints players as they begin their cup campaign, having been pipped in the last two semi-finals.

In fact, having brought the Challenge Cup back to St Helens seven times in the first 13 years of the summer era, just one Wembley win since 2008 provides plenty of motivation.

Coach Paul Wellens said: “When we won the cup in 2008 it was our third on the run and if someone had said then you won’t get another one until 2021, we wouldn’t have believed it.

“But that’s the nature of sport, isn’t it?

“You have got to earn everything and our period of Cup starvation, so to speak, reignited the fire in a lot of our players in 2021.

“I feel having a couple of years of missing out there in the semi finals that the hunger to get back to Wembley is burning again.

“But to do that we have to overcome a really strong Leeds side and that has to be our main focus.”

There is a fierce rivalry between the sides - especially in the cup.

Plenty of fans will have memories of the 1972 and 1978 Wembley finals, and the semis of the Super League era.

Wellens said: “I think there’s a lot of similarities between the two clubs in terms of an expectation around success.

“Both clubs have had a lot of success in their recent history and quite naturally when you get two really competitive teams it makes for a great occasion.”

The cup tie is just one leg of a run of tough games Saints must deal with in spring, with the sold-out Good Friday clash with Wigan coming the week after followed by a trip to Catalans and then, if victorious on Friday, a cup quarter final.

Wellens said: “I spoke to the players last week about it being a really exciting period of the season for us with all of the big games coming up.

“As a player and as a coach it’s the big games that excite you and it’s the big games that you want to be part of.

“This week is a another big one and there’s a few more coming up in front of us as well and I know this playing group are excited about the next weeks.”