The contrast between the two Coral Women’s Challenge Cup semi-finals could not have been starker but the outcome is the same as 2018 – a Leeds Rhinos-Castleford Tigers final.
Holders Leeds stunned St Helens with two tries in quick succession late in the second half, overturning a 10-8 deficit to win a titanic clash 16-10 at the Totally Wicked Stadium yesterday (Sunday).
Both sides named strong squads prior to the game, though perhaps crucially St Helens were without influential play maker Faye Gaskin who had slotted over a combined total of 18 goals in their previous two Challenge Cup ties.
Neither side had conceded even a single try in the competition en route to the semi-finals, so it was no surprise to see defences firmly on top during a scoreless opening quarter.
Leeds certainly had their chances during that period, but twice squandered golden opportunities after kicks had bounced kindly for them.
In the end, it was the hosts who broke the deadlock on 20 minutes when Jodie Cunningham darted over from dummy half, to the delight of most of the 734 spectators inside the stadium.
Her effort was converted by Beth Stott to give St Helens a 6-0 lead.
The home side extended their advantage to 8-0 shortly after through a Stott penalty following a ball steal, but the Rhinos closed the gap just before half time when Shannon Lacey powered her way over for an unconverted try.
Both sides began the second half as cagily as the first, with the pressure of knock out rugby clearly affecting both sides.
Saints surged further ahead through the boot of Stott after Hannah Butcher held down a rampaging Emily Rudge a little too long and found herself dispatched to the sin bin.
But 10-4 looked a precarious advantage – even against 12 players – and when Sophie Nutall crossed in the right corner that lead was cut to 10-8. Courtney Hill landed a towering
touchline conversion to level the scores and just three minutes later the Rhinos were in again.
Stott’s attempted drop goal failed to trouble the uprights, but worse still it was gathered by Rhinos' speedster Caitlin Beevers who ran the full length of the pitch to score what proved to be a breathtaking winning try.
The Loiners will now face Castleford - 100-0 winners over a shell-shocked Wakefield Trinity - in the final which will be played at the University of Bolton Stadium on Saturday, July 27, as part of a unique triple-header alongside the men’s Coral Challenge Cup semi-finals between Warrington Wolves and Hull FC, and St Helens and Halifax.