Redemption time nigh for Warrington

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The Independent Online
Wembley staged two memorable Challenge Cup finals between St Helens and Bradford in the 1990s. If this weekend's semi-finals go according to form, there will be another at Twickenham in a month's time.

Wembley staged two memorable Challenge Cup finals between St Helens and Bradford in the 1990s. If this weekend's semi-finals go according to form, there will be another at Twickenham in a month's time.

Leeds know that they will have to be unrecognisable from the side that threw away any chance they might have had at Wigan in the first 25 minutes last Friday. In their defence, it is not unusual for teams to perform that way immediately before a semi-final.

Their coach, Dean Lance, has made the point that Saints, given similar encouragement at the same ground today, will do very much the same thing.

Lance has not got the option of rushing his Australian hooker, Robbie Mears, back into the fray after a broken collarbone. A specialist has given him the all-clear for next week, but Matt Diskin is fit to return.

Leeds are also without Keith Senior and Ryan Sheridan. Lance has expressed his confidence in young Chev Walker's ability to handle the threat of Paul Newlove, but half-back has been more of a problem in Sheridan's absence and he needs Iestyn Harris to be fully fit and focussed on the job.

For Saints, Vila Matautia returned after suspension but injured his shoulder in the Alliance team on Thursday, so may not be risked. Chris Joynt will be there, though, to lead the bid to reach the final for the first time since they beat Bradford in 1997.

If Leeds have some obvious hurdles to get over, then Warrington are the wildest and wooliest of underdogs against Bradford at the McAlpine stadium tomorrow.

The Wolves have not won in Super League this season and their coach, Darryl Van de Velde, returned from visiting his sick mother in Australia to view the video of their latest effort, against Salford last week, and pronounce it "disgraceful". Van de Velde has sold tomorrow's match to his players as a way to redeem themselves. "It's 80 minutes ­ a short time out of their lives ­ and the opportunity is huge," he says.

Alan Hunte will switch to the full-back role he occupied regularly much earlier in his career, in place of the injured Lee Penny, while Dean Busby and Steve McCurrie will return in the forwards.

Most significantly, Allan Langer will be back after missing the Salford defeat and he is one reason the Bulls will be wary. "I only have to remind the players that they flogged the crap out of us at Warrington and stopped our unbeaten run," says their coach, Brian Noble. "In the semi-final last year, for 30 minutes they were the better side."

Noble learnt from bitter experience as a player not to take anything for granted in semi-finals. He lost four as a player, including a couple Bradford were expected to win, and the record-breaking 71-10 defeat by Wigan in 1992.

Many are expecting a similar score tomorrow, but Noble is not among them.

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