Where will tonight’s first Challenge Cup semi-final be won and lost? TotalRL takes a look at the key battles which will determine whether it’s Hull or Wigan who advance to Wembley next month..
Jamie Shaul v Sam Tomkins (fullback)
Wayne Bennett would be well advised to tune in and watch this game – as arguably his two leading contenders for fullback for the Four Nations will be squaring off against each other. On one hand there is Jamie Shaul, the young gun who has been in exceptional form this season. On the other, the experience and guile of Sam Tomkins, who will be looking to once again show he’s made for the big occasions. It will be a fascinating tussle between two outstanding fullbacks: but who will get the better of the other?
Marc Sneyd v Matty Smith (half-back)
Another intriguing battle for Bennett to keep an eye on tonight comes in the halves, with two men who were both in attendance at his recent players meeting. With Luke Gale thrown into the mix, Marc Sneyd and Matty Smith are two-thirds of the trio looking to land the number seven shirt for the Four Nations, and Smith will have to go some to better Sneyd on current form. The former Salford man has been outstanding for Hull in recent weeks – but just as he showed in England’s third Test win against New Zealand last year, Smith has big match pedigree which cannot be doubted.
Gareth Ellis v John Bateman (back-row)
There’s no doubting that two of Super League’s best back-rowers collide at Doncaster tonight. Hull captain Gareth Ellis has rolled back the years on occasions this season, and he looks like a genuine Man of Steel contender in 2016. Off-field drama aside, John Bateman is very much in that category too, and he showed during Wigan’s loss to St Helens last week that he remains one of their most influential players despite eight weeks on the sidelines due to suspension. Bateman will be keen to show he’s England material again this year – and getting the better of Ellis would go a long way to doing that.
Also keep an eye on… Scott Taylor v Ben Flower – two superb props with the added sub-plot of Taylor looking to knock the side with whom he won the cup in 2013 out.