Saturday 24th August 2019 is a day that will live long in the memory of Warrington Wolves fans. In the Wembley sunshine the Wolves triumphed over league leaders St Helens to claim their ninth Challenge Cup and their first trophy since 2012.
The 18-4 scoreline would not have been guessed by many, as St Helens saw the most success in the early stages with two tries being controversially disallowed.
Nevertheless, Warrington’s resilience in defence ultimately gave them reward, as they went on to dominate the rest of the game.
Two tries in quick succession from Joe Philbin and Ben Murdoch-Masila proved crucial in putting the Wolves on the right path. A Saints try from Theo Fages offered them a glimmer of hope deep into the second half, yet Warrington would ultimately pull away with a decisive try from man of the match Daryl Clark in the dying moments.
This Warrington Wolves side was totally different to the one that fell to defeat to Catalan Dragons in the 2018 final. Despite a shaky start and a late rally from their opponents, Warrington were well worthy of the silverware on the day.
St Helens will truly feel that this was an opportunity missed, as they are far and away the best side in the Super League this year, having already clinched the League Leaders Shield. Yet this was their first visit to Wembley in 11 years and it is possible that the pressure of the occasion proved too much.
Based on form, this result was extremely unlikely. Warrington are, at the time of writing, in the worst form of any team in the Super League, as they have lost their last 6 league games. In sharp contrast, St Helens league form has been undeniably superb, evidenced by the fact that they boast an 18-point lead over second placed Warrington in the league table.
It has also been a foregone conclusion for many that St Helens will be crowned as champions in the Grand Final at Old Trafford in Manchester on October 12th, yet this result will have cast some doubt in the minds of even thier most loyal fans.
St Helens are no strangers to success, as they have won the league thirteen times, yet their last major trophy came in 2014. There are whispers that St Helens simply do not have the bottle to perform on the biggest of stages.
The nature of this rugby league system dictates that a big upset could be on the cards before the season draws to an end.
Warrington have now proven themselves capable of bringing down the Saints and their league table neighbours Salford Reds have been in red hot form of late, with Wigan Warriors not too far behind.
Whilst Warrington and Salford do not have much Grand Final success to speak of, Wigan are veterans of the event. The Warriors are the current defending champions of the Grand Final trophy and claims to be the most successful team in English rugby league history having won the championship 22 times. There is still over a month of rugby to be played before the Grand Final and a lot can change in the top six before then.
What is undeniable for the time being, however, is that Warrington Wolves have a victory to cherish and a nice trophy to add to their cabinet. But this team will have far higher ambitions than the Challenge Cup.
Warrington have not had their hands on the Championship since the 1950s and it is a pain that is palpable around the Halliwell-Jones Stadium in the heart of Warrington.
Fans will believe that coach Steve Price and a fully fit Blake Austin will be capable of driving them to the ultimate prize, but unfortunately for them they still face another St Helens-shaped mountain to climb.
Image: Michael Taylor via Wikimedia Commons