Even by sport’s unpredictable and unbelievable nature, a semi-final shock for St Helens isn’t in the realms of reality.
Anything other than a Saints victory over Halifax is unfathomable. Not only are they Super League’s runaway leaders, but they are also facing a part-time side in the bottom half of the Championship who were unable to beat Dewsbury last time out.
Such is the apparent gulf between the two sides, the record books have been dusted off ahead of Saturday’s game. If they were to beat the current semi-final record, held by Wigan for their 70-0 victory over London in 2013, it wouldn’t be a major surprise.
St Helens have fallen short at this stage in their last six attempts, but despite their semi-final stutters, it’s unthinkable they will miss out on a first trip to Wembley in eleven years this time out.
But their coach is taking nothing for granted. Justin Holbrook has been at the helm for three of those semi-final shortcomings, and while the prospect of a fourth is implausible, he’s not willing to take anything for granted.
“All I can say is that we know what’s at stake,” is his quick response when quizzed about their semi-final bout.
“We’re playing in a Challenge Cup semi-final with a chance to play at Wembley. We fell short here last year, whenever you fall short you want another crack at it, we’ve had to wait 12 months for that.
“We’re not going to let anything distract us from the task. Absolutely not. Of course we were happy to draw Halifax, I’d be lying if I said any different, but there’s no chance we won’t respect them. You can look at last week and that we didn’t play everybody as a sign of respect to Halifax.
“It’s a Challenge Cup semi-final and we’re taking nothing for granted because we want to get to Wembley. They’ve been inconsistent this season but that’s irrelevant in a semi, that showed with Catalans. They just had to play on the day and they did that.
“There’s a threat in any sport in the world. We’ve got to make sure we play well ourselves. We’ve done that all year and we’re not going to try anything different because we’re playing Halifax.”
Under the guidance of the Australian, St Helens have established themselves as the best team in the country. Since the beginning of 2018, they have amassed a phenomenal win rate of 85%, a figure that surpasses the treble-winning sides of Leeds and Bradford in years gone by.
But there’s one crucial difference between them and those great sides of the past. Major silverware.
Until that is rectified, St Helens can’t cement their status as one of the great teams of their era.
That’s not lost on Holbrook, whose future at the club is clouded in mystery amid talk of a return to the NRL. If those rumours prove to be true, this could be the best chance he has to write his name in Saints history.
“We have got a great side and we’re performing consistently well. That gives us a great opportunity, but that’s all it is right now, an opportunity.
“It’s about performing on the night, that’s what has held us back in the past and until we get over that line it will always be haunting us. If we perform well enough we’ll get to the final that this club, this team and this town all want. It’s been 11 years, it’s a great opportunity, but we’re taking nothing for granted.”