BRAMALL Lane has been lined up as the venue for a replay if the Challenge Cup final between Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors ends in a draw at Wembley tomorrow (2.30pm).
It is the second year running that Sheffield United’s stadium – where Eagles play most of their home games – has been chosen to host a possible replay of the league’s showpiece final. Any replay would be played on September 7.
Wigan are massive favourites. It’s the Warriors first visit to the new Wembley – their last appearance was at the old stadium in 1998 when they lost to Eagles in one of the Cup’s biggest upsets. That should give Leeds hope of a shock result say Eagles boss Mark Aston and his assistant Mick Cook.
“The last time they went to Wembley, Wigan were expected to wipe the floor with us and that didn’t happen,” said Aston of the 17-8 victory.
“It’s a final and Leeds are a quality team. On form Wigan are the best in the Super League but strange things can happen at Wembley.”
Wigan have a squad that mixes the experience of Paul Deacon and Sean O’Loughlin with the explosive skill of young England star Sam Tomkins and his brother Joel.
Leeds in their first season under coach Brian McDermott have struggled and look like a team in transition with players moving towards the end of their career. Playing at Wembley could be just the incentive Leeds need, says Cook, who was an assistant coach at Rhinos. “Don’t write off Leeds. They have plenty of pace in the backs and Kevin Sinfield is a great captain and has a clever kicking game. I think they will give a good account of themselves.”
Eagles are hoping for a big crowd for the only RL game being played in the north this weekend when they face Featherstone Rovers at Bramall Lane on Sunday, (3pm.)
Fact spot: The Challenge Cup final has gone to a replay three time in its 113-year history: 1910, 1954 and 1982, when Hull FC defeated Widnes 18-9 at Elland Road, Leeds, after the sides drew 14-14 at Wembley. The Wembley showpiece pits together the two clubs with the most Challenge Cup Final appearances. Wigan make a record 29th Final appearance (17 wins). Leeds 22 finals (11 wins).
Leeds have never beaten Wigan in a major final. They lost in the Challenge Cup at Wembley in 1994 (26-16) and 1995 (30-10). Wigan make their first appearance at the new Wembley. They won a record 15 of 22 finals at the old stadium, including eight wins in a row 1988-95. Leeds lost 30-6 to Warrington Wolves in the 2010 final, their only previous visit to the new stadium.