The five rugby league games you must watch in May

Sunday, 12th May
AB Sundecks 1895 Cup semi-final
Bradford Bulls v Wakefield Trinity
Bartercard Odsal Stadium, Bradford (3.00pm)

We are one step away from Wembley in the 1895 Cup and the Bulls and Trinity will do battle for the right to return to the national stadium, in each case for the first time since the old Wembley was demolished and the new one was built.

The Bulls were last there in 1997, when they lost to St Helens, although they featured in Challenge Cup Finals in the noughties at Murrayfield, the Millennium Stadium and Twickenham. Trinity made their last Wembley appearance 45 years ago in 1979, when they lost the Challenge Cup Final to Widnes.

Both clubs will take significant numbers of fans to Wembley if they win this game. And with both sides having started the season strongly, there is likely to be a big crowd at Odsal for what could be a thrilling contest.

Thursday, 16th May
Ampol Women’s State of Origin
Queensland v New South Wales
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane (7.45pm, Sky Sports Arena)

The Women’s State of Origin has been expanded to three matches in 2024 and the first game of the series kicks off on the NRL’s Magic Weekend in Brisbane, with Queensland hosting New South Wales as the opening game of the weekend.

In 2023 the series had been expanded from one match to two, with both sides winning one match. The last game of the series drew a crowd of 18,275 to Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium and there will be a lot of interest in the size of the crowd for this year’s opening game.

Tazmin Gray of the Gold Coast Titans was the player of the series in 2023 and she is likely to play a leading role once more for the Queenslanders, with both sides likely to be under-prepared for the game, given that the NRLW club season doesn’t begin until later in the year.

Saturday, 18th May
Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup semi-final
St Helens v York Valkyrie
Eco-Power Stadium, Doncaster (11.15am, BBC iPlayer)

The Women’s Challenge Cup semi-final draw has thrown up an intriguing match-up between the Challenge Cup holders St Helens and the Champions York Valkyrie, with the two sides doing battle at the unusual time of 11.15am in a match that will precede the Challenge Cup semi-final between Hull KR and Wigan Warriors in Doncaster.

Both teams are now paying their players and York may start as the slights favourites, especially given that they have recruited Eboni Partington from St Helens, while another of their stars, Kelsey Gentles, returns after having given birth.

Saints also suffered a blow when they lost Shona Hoyle to Leeds Rhinos, but under the guidance of new head of women’s pathways & performance, Jodie Cunningham they will be as competitive as ever. Any fans travelling to the later men’s game would be well advised to make a point of setting out early for what could be one of the women’s games of the year.

Sunday, 19th May
Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final
Huddersfield Giants v Warrington Wolves
Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens (3.15pm, BBC 2)

The two sides that produced upset wins in the quarter-finals of the Betfred Challenge Cup will come together at St Helens for the right to play at Wembley. And any neutrals who look in on this game will surely struggle to pick the winner.

The Giants played brilliantly at the Stade Gilbert Brutus to beat Catalans Dragons 34-6, while Warrington played equally well to shock St Helens 31-6 at the Totally Wicked Stadium.

Giants fullback Jake Connor was a standout performer in Perpignan, as was Wolves captain George Williams against St Helens and both players will be hoping to maintain that level of form to secure their passage to the Challenge Cup Final.

Huddersfield reached the Cup Final when it was held at Tottenham in 2022, losing narrowly to Wigan, while Warrington’s last trip to the Cup Final saw them defeat St Helens in 2019. It would be a remarkable achievement for their rookie coach Sam Burgess to reach a major final in his first year of coaching the Wolves.

Friday, 31st May
Betfred Super League
Catalans Dragons v St Helens
Stade Gilbert Brutus, Perpignan (5.30pm BST, Sky Sports Action)

The two teams that suffered shock defeats in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals will meet again on the last day of the month, which will be a repeat of the thrilling match between these two teams that took place at the Stade Gilbert Brutus on 6th April, when the Catalans defeated St Helens 14-8.

On that occasion both sides scored two tries, by the match was decided by three goals from Dragons fullback Arthur Mourgue, while Jonny Lomax couldn’t convert Saints tries by Jack Welsby and Tommy Makinson.

Both sides had been aiming for glory in both major competitions, but after their unexpected Challenge Cup reversals they now only have Super League to aim for.

At the time of writing the Catalans are leading the Super League table, with Saints among a posse of clubs that lie two points behind them.

If the game can deliver the same degree of excitement generated by their April encounter, then we have the prospect of another thriller.

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 496 (May 2024)

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