The Challenge Cup final will be a tribute to Rob Burrow

Fans pay tribute to Rob Burrow ahead of the Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium – PA/Bradley Collyer

Warrington Wolves 8 Wigan Warriors 18

On a day when the sport united to pay tribute to the late Rob Burrow, Bevan French spoke of his own personal tragedy after leading Wigan Warriors to yet another Challenge Cup victory.

Burrow died last Sunday after a four-and-a-half-year battle with motor neurone disease. In his honor, there was a minute’s silence before kick-off, which was moved to 3:07 PM, and a minute’s applause in the seventh minute. of the match, in recognition of the No. 7 jersey he wore with such distinction for Leeds Rhinos.

The fact that rugby league’s oldest and most famous trophy is in Wigan’s trophy cabinet is in large part down to the brilliance of stand-off French, who earned the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match.

Afterwards, the Australian playmaker, draped in the Aboriginal flag, said: “A few years ago I lost my mother to the same thing. [MND] So what happened with Rob, it’s been an emotional week.”

Wigan Warriors' Bevan French (on the ground) celebrates with teammates after winning the Challenge Cup finalWigan Warriors' Bevan French (on the ground) celebrates with teammates after winning the Challenge Cup final

Bevan French lies on the ground as Wigan Warriors celebrate winning the Challenge Cup – PA/John Walton

Eyebrows were raised when Wigan appointed Matt Peet ahead of the 2022 campaign; A poetry-loving English literature graduate, Peet never played the game professionally, but worked his way up through the youth ranks before landing the top job at his hometown club.

However, after this emotionally charged win over Sam Burgess’s Warrington Wolves, the Cherry and Whites are in possession of every piece of silverware available to them. Peet had already won the League Leaders’ Shield and Super League titles last autumn and then conjured up a famous win over NRL champions Penrith Panthers in February.

French added: “At the start of the week we were talking about what we could achieve as a group. Not many teams have gone to the Grand Final, League Leaders, World Club and then this. It was an important point of attention and a bit of motivation for us.

“It’s going to take a while for it to sink in – all the trophies, so let’s sit back and enjoy it for a few days.”

The win over Warrington was a record-extending success in the 21st Challenge Cup for Wigan and was just another reward for a dominant performance. Peet is leading a renaissance at Wigan and said: “Today is special because it is at Wembley. I just enjoy working with this party. I love them dearly and am very proud of them.

“We don’t even worry about the trophies, it’s great, but it’s just another day to try to be our best.”

After Wembley united to honor Burrow’s memory, Peet added: “It is impossible to pay a fitting tribute; one try won’t do it, one play won’t do it. Our thoughts are with his family. I have never known a more respected man in this sport or any other.”

Warrington Wolves head coach Sam Burgess cheers on the fansWarrington Wolves head coach Sam Burgess cheers on the fans

Sam Burgess said his Warrington team did not show the level they had shown during the season: PA/John Walton

Paul Vaughan comforts Warrington Wolves' James HarrisonPaul Vaughan comforts Warrington Wolves' James Harrison

Paul Vaughan comforts James Harrison after the Warrington defeat – Getty Images/Paul Harding

There was no fairytale for former dual-code England international Burgess, who put the performance down to a “bad day at the office”.

Burgess, who lost his father Mark to MND in 2007 aged 45, said: “We have a young squad with 12 players who had never played in the finals. It’s an experience for us as a group with a new coach and you’d like to think we’ll do better next time.

“I wouldn’t say we were frozen, but the occasion probably affected us a little bit. We didn’t perform like we had all year. Bevan French is a great player and Wigan are a championship team.”

After early sin binnings for Wigan prop Mike Cooper and Warrington full-back Matt Dufty, the Warriors led when French sent a teasing kick behind the Wolves defence.

Zach Eckersley, a 6-foot-4 homegrown center with just a handful of senior appearances to his name, arrived on pace to ground the ball. A second try came in the 23rd minute when French collected a short pass from halfback partner Harry Smith and more delicate footwork took him over the line.

Liam Farrell lifts the trophy together with teammatesLiam Farrell lifts the trophy together with teammates

Liam Farrell lifts the trophy – Getty Images/Paul Harding

In the 56th minute Wigan’s victory was assured when long-serving captain Liam Farrell showed impressive pace to break Warrington’s line and cross inside the left channel. Smith added his third conversion but Warrington briefly threatened a comeback when Dufty touched down to end a period of pressure.

However, Wigan were not to be denied Challenge Cup glory again as they emerged worthy victors. As Peet’s team look to retain the Super League trophy later this year, it will take a special team to stop them.

St Helens wins its fourth women’s title in a row

Women’s Challenge Cup Final:
Leeds Rhinos 0 St Helens 22

Leeds Rhinos could not honor Burrow’s memory with a thrilling win in the Challenge Cup final against holders St Helens.

Saints defeated Lois Forsell’s side for the third year running to secure a fourth consecutive Challenge Cup and continue their dominance of the competition.

First-half tries from scrum-half Faye Gaskin and winger Phoebe Hook provided the platform for the win before center Luci McColm and prop Chantelle Crowl landed in the second half. This also applied to Leeds, who enjoyed plenty of early possession and field position, but could not deliver against a determined Saints backline.

“Saints have won four in a row,” sang Matty Smith’s victorious team to the tune of the Status Quo classic Rockin’ All Over the World.

Forsell played down suggestions that her team had been distracted by the emotions surrounding Burrow around the match, saying: “It was quite an emotional and busy week so potentially it could have happened. But I don’t think you can use that as a performance indicator. We just weren’t good enough to win that day.”

It was a great moment for Saints counterpart Smith, who had led his team to an historic victory in the first Women’s Challenge Cup final played at Wembley last year.

St Helens' Georgia Sutherland, Luci McColm and Naomi Williams celebrate after winning the Women's Challenge Cup final and raise their fingers to mark four straight winsSt Helens' Georgia Sutherland, Luci McColm and Naomi Williams celebrate after winning the Women's Challenge Cup final and raise their fingers to mark four straight wins

St Helens’ Georgia Sutherland, Luci McColm and Naomi Williams enjoy St Helens’ fourth successive Challenge Cup win – PA/John Walton

Now in his second season in charge, retaining the famous trophy at the national stadium was another feather in his cap as he continues his budding coaching career.

Smith was a promising junior footballer and played in Everton’s youth academy alongside Wayne Rooney before concentrating on rugby league. He enjoyed two spells at St Helens either side of a hugely successful spell with arch-rivals Wigan, helping them beat Hull FC in the 2013 Challenge Cup final and win the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match.

“I feel speechless and it’s hard to describe,” Smith said. “The resilience we sometimes showed in defense was enormous; our defense won us that game. And we have players who can create and execute special plays. It was amazing.”

After Leeds’ early pressure came to nothing, Saints led in the 25th minute when Gaskin collected possession 10 yards from the Leeds line and fired through their defence.

That instilled confidence in Smith’s team and with Saints and England captain Jodie Cunningham enjoying increasing influence over proceedings, they soon struck again.

This time, neat handling culminated in player of the match Zoe Harris finding Hook with a delightful pass and she dived into the right corner.

After the break, McColm completed another fine move before Crowl capped a powerful display by crashing under the posts to score St Helens’ fourth try, with Gaskin booting up her third conversion.

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