Rhinos looking for final charge past Tomkins

 

Leeds and Wigan are under pressure today not only to reach Wembley, but also to do it in style and put on a morale-boosting show in their Challenge Cup semi-final.

Rugby league's image has taken a pounding from Bradford's crisis and a miserable International Origin series. This is the chance for the game's oldest competition to lift the collective spirits.

A few weeks ago you could not have got a price about Leeds winning today's semi at Huddersfield. Since then, however, the Rhinos have come out of a mid-season form slump every bit as deep as last season's, while Wigan have actually lost a match – to Bradford, of all people.

It all helps to give Leeds a real chance of going on to win the one trophy that has eluded this generation of their players. Of today's line-up, only Jamie Peacock has won a Challenge Cup – and that was with Bradford.

"There's no doubt that we're going into this game as underdogs," said the Leeds half-back, Danny McGuire. "But we've got plenty of people in our team with experience in big games and a lot of players who can perform when it's needed."

With the return of Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Jones-Buchanan – rested last week – the Rhinos' pack is back to optimum strength.

Brent Webb is still missing from full-back, but Leeds have found an interesting replacement in the shape of Zak Hardaker, switched there from the centres. He is not quite a Sam Tomkins, but his counter-attacking threat is considerable.

Tomkins, as ever, is likely to prove the key for Wigan. He has rarely been kept quiet by a defence this season and, if he gets his usual quota of running opportunities, Leeds will be in trouble.

Wigan are still without their main long-term casualties – Tommy Leuluai, Pat Richards and Stuart Fielden – but Josh Charnley should be fit to take his place as both right-winger and goal-kicker.

With all due respect to Leeds and Huddersfield, the final most neutrals would like to see would be between Wigan and Warrington.

They have been the two best sides in Super League all season, although the Wolves would be more confident of beating Huddersfield at Salford tomorrow if they could be certain that Lee Briers, still their main ideas man, was fully recovered from the Achilles strain that kept him out last weekend.

The Giants have been in wretched form of late, losing seven of their last eight league matches, culminating in a 52-6 thrashing at lowly Castleford last Sunday.

Meanwhile, at Bradford, who last won the cup nine years ago, they are selling off club merchandise yesterday and today, to try to raise the money to keep the Bulls afloat long enough for the only bidders – the ABC consortium of local Asian businessmen – to finalise their proposed takeover.

The group is looking for assurances that the Rugby League, which owns Odsal Stadium, will sell it to ABC and guarantee Bradford's place in Super League next season.

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