Who Garry Schofield thinks will win Challenge Cup final and Lance Todd Trophy

STEP up Josh Drinkwater – this may just be your moment!

As a time-served fan of the Challenge Cup, I’m really looking forward to Wembley.

Warrington and Wigan have everything needed to serve up an absolute belter of a final – and I really hope they do.

Most people think the competition has lost some of its shine in recent seasons.

Even the Rugby Football League, whose flagship event it is, seem to struggle to get too excited about it and put everything they can into promoting it and returning it to its rightful place in the list of this country’s biggest sporting occasions.

This is one of the best opportunities we get to showcase our great game to the wider public – and every resource possible has to be put into doing just that.

As an RFL Hall of Fame member, I’m still awaiting my invitation to the final, and it looks like I won’t be watching the big match in the company of fellow former players.

Of course the names on the guest list are up to the governing body, but I for one still respect and value the sport’s rich history and the role this competition has played in that.

And I’ll still be glued to the game, and wondering who might come up with the key play which puts the ribbons, whether primrose and blue or cherry and white, on the famous old trophy.

There are obvious potential stars of the show, Matt Dufty and George Williams of Warrington and Jai Field and Bevan French of Wigan for example.

But the beauty of this contest, and a sign of the strength and the quality respective coaches Sam Burgess and Matt Peet can call on, is that there are intriguing match-ups all over the pitch.

It’s not just Dufty and Field at fullback or Williams and French in the halves.

We’ve got great wingers and centres such as Warrington’s Josh Thewlis, Toby King and Matty Ashton and Wigan’s Adam Keighran (if he avoids a ban), Jake Wardle and Liam Marshall.

There are the hookers Danny Walker and Sam Powell in the Wolves’ corner and Brad O’Neill and Kruise Leeming in the Warriors’ and props James Harrison and Paul Vaughan going up against Mike Cooper and Luke Thompson.

And what about the battle of backrowers Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Liam Farrell?

I haven’t even mentioned the other halfbacks Drinkwater and Harry Smith, but I believe both will be central to proceedings.

Drinkwater can have an absolutely crucial role, because one of the keys to a Warrington win will be him teaming up with and taking the pressure off Williams, in my view the best halfback in the northern hemisphere at the current time.

Williams has what it takes to shape and dictate the pattern of play against his old club, but he needs some support to be at his best and allow him the odd breather, and Drinkwater must provide that.

Warrington’s appointment of Burgess as boss was bold, and the early signs are encouraging.

They remain a work in progress, and at this stage, talk of ending that long, long wait for a league title still seems a little bit premature, but they are certainly contenders.

This is their chance to get a prized trophy in the cabinet and send out a strong message, but they face formidable opposition led by a very capable coach who has shown so often that he knows just what to do to prepare his players for the biggest matches.

Wigan have that knack of never going away – their late win over Huddersfield in the 2022 final at Tottenham, which was Peet’s first trophy triumph since stepping into the hot seat, perfectly illustrated that.

And they have a real affinity with the Challenge Cup, with a record 20 wins already and this their 34th final.

If Warrington are to beat them, there are two crucial things they must do.

On no account get into a so-called ‘arm-wrestle’, because we’ve seen time and time again that Wigan come out on top of them. Hull KR tried to go toe-to-toe in the semi-finals, and it just didn’t work.

And start the game fast, producing a few unpredictable plays, and do everything possible to disrupt Wigan’s so-called ‘processes’. Wigan will be very comfortable with a chess-style game, and confident of winning it.

Of course the sides clashed on Saturday, and I have to say I was a bit disappointed by Wigan’s approach, because to me, they didn’t show those bright young players Warrington included the right level of respect.

They still got the win, but I don’t think that match will have all that much bearing on the final.

I’m hoping it’s going to be a close, dramatic and entertaining encounter, and I’m tipping Wigan to win by seven points with Smith, a young player I really rate, taking the the Lance Todd Trophy.

First published in League Express newspaper, Issue 3,433 (June 3, 2024)

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