Derek Hardman aims to add to St Helens’ trophy collection in Women’s Challenge Cup final

St Helens were all-conquering in 2021 but aren’t looking any further than the task of retaining the Women’s Challenge Cup this weekend.

They won the treble last season and will defend the first of their three trophies on Saturday, when they play Leeds Rhinos at Elland Road in this year’s final.

Head coach Derek Hardman knows that retaining all their titles will be even harder than winning them in the first place, and says the team are taking it one step at a time.

“It’s tough to win a treble and then go on and win other things,” he said.

“It’s really difficult to do it in the first place, to do it again would be unbelievable. 

“But we’re not thinking about that, we’re thinking about this week and hopefully getting another trophy in the cabinet and then kicking on from there.”

They look in ominous form again this year, remarkably not conceding a single point in their five matches on the road to the final.

After pummelling all the group-stage opposition, they were given a closer run by Huddersfield Giants in a 24-0 win before a frightening 82-0 victory over Featherstone Rovers in the semi-final at Warrington a fortnight ago.

“I think we’re stronger in the fact that we’re another twelve months on in development,” said Hardman. 

“Physically we’ve developed more, with an understanding of what they’re trying to achieve. But it’s all about performance, and how we perform at the weekend.”

Leeds provide the opposition, and the two teams have history. This is a repeat of last season’s Super League Grand Final, which St Helens won 28-0, while the Rhinos were also their victims in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.

It proved a decisive reverse in trend from the previous season, 2019, when Leeds came out on top in semi-finals of both league and cup on their way to winning both competitions.

Power can shift quickly in the still-nascent women’s game, and Hardman is wary of Leeds’ threat having seen them strengthen in the off-season.

“Leeds are a classy outfit, every year they appear in finals,” he said. “They’ve made some new additions with Georgia Roche and Lummers (Emma Lumley) from England, so they’ll be strong and we wouldn’t expect anything else.

“I think you’ll see two really competitive teams going head-to-head. We’re made up with the final, we want to be competing against Leeds. 

“It’s great for the competition to have those two teams going at it and hopefully we get the right result.”

Having the match at its biggest venue yet in Elland Road, and live on BBC2, as part of a triple-header ensures it will have a great reach. 

“It’s an unbelievable venue,” said Hardman. “With the history of the stadium, for us to be a part of that this weekend is immense, and in my opinion it’s exactly what the girls deserve.

“They want to be accepted on this stage. I think it’s a very fitting stage for the girls to be on.”