Garry Schofield predicts a win for St Helens, although it could perhaps be tighter than some people think.
Wembley is looming – let’s all keep our fingers crossed that there are no late Covid complications – and I’m really looking forward to two big matches.
Both Castleford versus St Helens in the Challenge Cup and Featherstone against York in the 1895 Cup have the potential to be cracking finals.
There are plenty of factors that make the Challenge Cup showpiece really interesting.
Can Castleford win some silverware to see Daryl Powell off in style? Can Saints stay on course for a possible double by lifting a trophy that has proved elusive in recent years?
Saints last got their ribbons on the Challenge Cup in 2008, but are favourites to win this year, and you can see why.
They have quality players with big-game experience after two successive Grand Final wins, and when they hit their straps, they are pretty unstoppable.
But they have been a bit hot and cold, and that will provide Daryl Powell with plenty of hope, even if his sides have pretty much frozen in their last two finals, at Wembley in 2014 and Old Trafford in 2017.
Could it be third time lucky? Of course it could, particularly if their Warrington-bound coach can come up with the same sort of match master plan that accounted for his future employers in the semi-finals.
But I have to say I reckon Saints will have a bit too much and win by 16, with Lachlan Coote landing the Lance Todd Trophy.
As well as being a big fan of the 1895 Cup, I’m also a traditionalist, so it’s great to see Featherstone and York appearing in the Challenge Cup final curtain raiser.
I say curtain raiser, but it’s an attractive clash in its own right, between two clubs who have been around a long time and have proud histories but are also building for the future.
Featherstone last played at Wembley in 1983 and upset the odds by winning the Challenge Cup at the expense of Hull.
I was there, having recently signed for the Black and Whites, and I well remember the match, the atmosphere, and the reaction of the Rovers fans to victory.
I know it will mean so much to them to be going back, and it could well be the first of two big finals for them this year, because come the play-offs, they and Toulouse should be fighting it out for a place in Super League.
That’s the ambition for York, who not so long ago were close to folding but have been brought back to life under the leadership of Jon Flatman.
Now they are playing at a fine new stadium, and like Featherstone, are setting their sights on the top flight.
It will take a big improvement in form and consistency if they are to have a chance of doing it this year, but you wouldn’t bet against it happening at some point.
But at the moment, Featherstone are the stronger, and I think they will win by 32.
As for this week’s Super League matches, if it goes ahead, given Covid issues at both clubs, I’m saying Hull KR will beat Hull by 14 on Thursday.
And on Friday, I’m predicting Catalans by 24 at home to Leeds and Wigan by 16 at Huddersfield,
Three coaches can celebrate Williams’ signing
So the rumours have been proved correct and George Williams has rocked up at Warrington – and it’s good news for not one, but three coaches.
Steve Price has just been given a big boost as he tries to deliver a much-craved title in his final season as coach.
Daryl Powell has a top-notch halfback to work with when he takes over.
And Shaun Wane knows a player who could prove key to England’s World Cup campaign will be getting regular games rather than watching from the sidelines following his departure from Canberra.
Williams showed he has class, creativity and organisational skills when he was at Wigan, and while it didn’t work out for him in the NRL, he will return an even better player from the experience of playing Down Under.
The quandary for Steve Price is how to get the best out of three very good operators in Williams, Gareth Widdop and Blake Austin.
Who will appear where and which one will be the chief string-puller?
As I’ve said before, you can only have one person conducting an orchestra, and while Widdop and Austin have played alongside each other, neither seem to be happy in a support role, but that’s what one of them might have to do alongside Williams if Warrington are to operate smoothly.
It could be that Widdop gets the nod in the halves and Austin switches to fullback, we’ll see.
While Price has some thinking to do, it’s better to have three good halves than two, and Warrington have shown that on their day, they can topple any top-fight side.
They’ve got a great chance of ending a wait which goes all the way back to 1955, and it’s going to be fascinating seeing how the rest of the season unfolds.
McDermott’s toughest job
Along the M62 from Warrington, Oldham are more concerned with what’s going on at the bottom of their table than the top as they desperately try to stave off relegation from the Championship.
Bringing in Brian McDermott as coaching consultant – a curious title – is a bold move, if a bit of a head scratcher.
It’s hard to fathom why a man who has nothing to prove as a coach and who is used to working at the top level wants to get involved in a second-tier dogfight, but fair play to Oldham for persuading him to come on board and to Brian for rolling his sleeves up and getting involved.
He’ll find quite a contrast between full-time rugby at Leeds, then Toronto, clubs with great facilities and plentiful support staff, and Oldham, where many players arrive for an evening training session straight from work.
Danny’s surprise departure
It was a surprise to see Danny Ward depart London Broncos, and like many, I’m wondering what led to the exit of a man who has been at the club, first as a player then in a variety of coaching roles, for so long and who seemed pretty settled in the capital.
He did a terrific job in first getting the Broncos to Super League thanks to that against-the-odds win over Toronto in Canada, then in prolonging the battle against an immediate relegation to the final day.
Danny was ultimately unsuccessful, but he and his players gave it a hell of a go, and were unlucky to go down after claiming ten wins.
He’s shown he can do a job in Super League, he has additional experience from when he and Ian Watson worked alongside Wayne Bennett at international level, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up.
Will a position be found for him at Leeds, where there is some uncertainty about exactly what the coaching set-up will look like after Gary Hetherington’s comments about Richard Agar’s ‘expanded’ role?
Or will Wigan be imaginative and go for an ambitious British coach when the time comes to replace Adrian Lam?
Whatever happens, Danny deserves a decent opportunity and I wish him well.
Finally, my sincere condolences to the family of John Fairbank, who has died aged just 55.
We played alongside each other at Leeds, where he was a great team-mate and a great character.
We used to call him ‘Octopus’, because he was all arms and legs, but he was a very decent player who loved to get stuck in, and was great to have on your side.
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.