Rugby League: Bradford have the hunger

RUGBY LEAGUE CHALLENGE CUP FINAL: St Helens v Bradford Bulls, Wembley Stadium, 2.45pm

There will be no landslide result at Wembley today. Bradford and St Helens - out on their own as the best sides in the British game - are too well-matched for that and victory in the Challenge Cup final could hinge on marginal factors.

Of the two, the Bulls have had the smoother preparation. They have not had the disruption of a key player such as Alan Hunte remaining in doubt until the day of the match, nor of the bizarre notion that Scott Gibbs should be snatched back from rugby union to replace him.

Hunte played so well before his hamstring injury two weeks ago - especially in conjunction with the excellent Karle Hammond - that the temptation to wait until the last minute for him to recover is understandable.

"Alan has been doing some running and there have been no side-effects," said the Saints coach, Shaun McRae, at Wembley yesterday. "He has not been flat out, but there are enough signs to give him another 24 hours. If the match was today, I would be extremely unlikely to pick him, but it's improving rapidly."

If Hunte does not make it, McRae must choose between Andy Haigh and the explosive Vila Matautia to fill the gap in the centres. The chances are that he will opt for the young Haigh, leaving Matautia in the role in which he has done the most damage, coming into the fray as a substitute at some stage.

McRae's other decision concerns the Australian second-row, Derek McVey, who has not played since damaging ankle ligaments on Good Friday.

McVey has had every treatment known to medical science in a bid to get fit, including herbal infusions and manipulation. In purely physical terms, he is regarded as fit, but his lack of any match practice makes it likely that he too will start on the bench.

Bradford have had to rule out Jon Scales, but most of Matthew Elliott's problems this week have centred on how best to use the talent at his disposal. His solution - although one he might yet vary - involves Glen Tomlinson playing at scrum-half, with Robbie Paul, man of the match and hat-trick scorer last year, moving to stand-off.

In a sense, it is a matter of secondary importance where Paul plays. His is the sort of untrammelled genius that would shine through if you stuck him at open-side prop and it will be on Saints' ability to control him that much will depend.

The big difference from last year is that Paul now has more creative players around him, notably the hooker, James Lowes, and the loose forward, Steve McNamara.

That gives the Bulls a brains trust in midfield that any side would envy. Throw in the influence that Graeme Bradley invariably exerts over proceedings and Bradford look suspiciously like a Cup-winning side.

The biggest danger to that theory comes from their former player, Paul Newlove. He made a slow start to the season, but has shown signs recently of getting back to his best at the ideal time.

Newlove seems to play best when he is feeling grumpy and he has looked that way of late. He was the only Saint who declined to stick around for pre-Wembley interviews last week and was in abrasive and unstoppable mood against Castleford in his last outing.

Man for man, however, Bradford have the greater desperation for victory today. No-one is hungrier than a Wembley loser a year later, with the possible exception of players like Tomlinson, Lowes and McNamara who were signed too late to play in the 1996 final.

Both sides are capable of winning a close game off the bench, but an educated guess at who might do so this year leads to Bradford's Paul Medley, who has never been more effective in his long career than he is now as a shock weapon.

It might be too much to expect a match as compelling as last year's classic, but everything points to a gripping contest decided by factors like these. A missing star - or one not at his best - or an inspired substitution late in the game could prove enough to swing it.

Non-scientific sampling methods point to these sides sharing the spoils of the season, starting with Bradford lifting the Cup today, possibly after a recount.


Probable teams

Stuart Spruce Full-back Steve Prescott

Darren Peacock Winger Danny Arnold

Graeme Bradley Centre Alan Hunte

Paul Loughlin Centre Paul Newlove

Paul Cook Winger Anthony Sullivan

Robbie Paul Stand-off Tommy Martyn

Glen Tomlinson Scrum-half Bobbie Goulding

Brian McDermott Prop Apollo Perelini

James Lowes Hooker Kieron Cunningham

Bernard Dwyer Prop Julian O'Neill

Sonny Nickle Second row Chris Joynt

Simon Knox Second row Chris Morley

Steve McNamara Loose forward Karle Hammond

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes). Kick-off: 2.45 (BBC1).

Substitutes: Ekoku, Calland, Medley, Reihana.

Substitutes (from): Haigh, Pickavance, Matautia, Northey, McVey.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Engineer - Managed Services Provider

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Eng...

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot