Saints' terrific trio threaten Leeds

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The Independent Online

Those who believe that Challenge Cup draws are regularly fixed – and a surprising number of people do believe that fairy tale – have some difficulty in explaining how Leeds and St Helens came out of the velvet bag together for today's semi-final.

If ever a pairing had "Made for Wembley" stamped upon it, this was it – because these two clubs have been by far the best in the country all year.

Saints' recent takeover at the top of Super League marks them out as the in-form team, not to mention the winners for the last two years. Some of their rugby lately has been awe-inspiring, with major players like Sean Long, Keiron Cunningham and Leon Pryce in top gear. A run of four defeats in five games and talk of crisis in the camp in early spring now seems far away.

The rhythm of Leeds' season has been rather different. They peaked early for the World Club Challenge, have been through a mid-summer slump and are now focusing on Wembley, ahead even of retaining their Super League crown.

For today's semi at Huddersfield, Brian McClennan is without two of his forwards, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Ryan Bailey, and awaits a late fitness test on Brent Webb. Saints have Paul Clough back after missing last week.

Tomorrow's semi, in the unfamiliar setting of Doncaster, is equally intriguing. Hull have had an unsettled, injury-ruined season in Super League, but have their strongest squad of the whole year available to face Wakefield. That could be ominous for Trinity, a club who have not been to Wembley since 1979, but no one with a knowledge of more recent Cup history would dismiss the chances of a team coached by John Kear, who has already forged unlikely Cup triumphs with Sheffield Eagles and Hull.

Kear is set to make a huge call by leaving his regular stand-off, Jamie Rooney, out of his 17. That will disappoint a player who has been an important part of Wakefield's successes, but it could leave the way open to use Tevita Leo-Latu as a game-breaker.