St Helens stave off Hull fightback to reach Challenge Cup final
Super League champions St Helens are back at Wembley after overcoming Hull 33-18 in an action-packed Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final.
Winger Regan Grace scored two of Saints’ five tries that took them a step closer to lifting the trophy for the first time since 2008, but the game will be remembered for a horrific-looking injury to Hull centre Josh Griffin that gifted a crucial 26th-minute try to Theo Fages.
Saints were leading 8-2 when Griffin, running the ball out of defence, suddenly collapsed to the ground as his Achilles tendon gave way and, clearly in agony, let go of the ball.
Instinctively, Fages picked it up and cantered the 15 metres to the line and referee Liam Moore had no alternative but to award the try after initially conferring with video official James Child.
Although rightly playing to the whistle, Fages was branded a “cheat” by the Hull fans at Leigh Sports Village and he went on to rub salt in their wounds by capping a fine performance with an important 66th-minute drop goal.
It was also a costly injury for Griffin from a personal viewpoint. Hull had a ready-made replacement in Cameron Scott but the injury looks set to rule Griffin out of contention for England’s mid-season international.
Saints, who handed a debut to former Widnes and London Broncos forward Dan Norman in place of the injured Agnatius Paasi, were initially rocked by the ferocity of Hull’s aggressive defence and prop forwards Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Alex Walmsley both came up with handling errors inside their own half.
Captain Marc Sneyd gave his side the lead with a 12th-minute penalty but gradually Saints came more into the game and half-backs Fages and Jonny Lomax began to cause all sorts of problems for their opponents.
Fages’ cut-out pass enabled Grace to score the opening try on 16 minutes and Lachlan Coote’s conversion went in off the far upright.
Coote extended his side’s lead to 8-0 with a penalty and then came the pivotal moment as Griffin collapsed in a heap to gift Fages his try, which Coote goaled to make it 14-2.
Grace went close to adding another try and Coote was wide with a second penalty attempt as Saints continued to look the more dangerous team.
The pattern continued at the start of the second half as second rower Sione Mata’utia lost control of the ball going for the line before centre Jack Welsby stretched out of Carlos Tuimavave’s tackle to plant the ball down for his seventh try of the season.
Coote’s fourth goal made it 20-2 but Hull hit back on 52 minutes when Tuimavave worked winger Mahe Fonua over for their first try.
Fages’ drop goal put Saints three scores in front and it began to look precious as Hull mounted their late fightback with two tries in seven minutes.
Tuimavave offloaded from a tackle short of the line to get hooker Danny Houghton diving over before Scott forced his way over out on the left.
That cut Saints’ lead to just three points and, although Sneyd was off target for the first time, a 40-20 kick from full-back Jake Connor gave Hull the perfect platform to launch a bid to clinch victory.
That was cruelly snatched away by Grace as he intercepted Connor’s pass meant for Fonua and sprinted 90 metres for his second try.
Centre Kevin Naiqama then made sure of victory by collecting a high kick and putting Coote over for his side’s final try, to which the full-back added his sixth goal.