The first major final of the year, the Women’s Betfred Challenge Cup Final saw the York City Knights take on St Helens at the Leigh Sports Village.
Neither side had appeared in a previous Challenge Cup final, Saints having despatched holders Leeds Rhinos in the semi-finals while York were the surprise package in this season’s competition having seen off Castleford Tigers to get to the final.
Saints were the massive favourites to lift the trophy, in its ninth year, after running in an average of over seventy-five points a game while conceding just six points in total in their opening three games while York have struggled a little with just the one league win under their belts.
Rhiannon Marshall came close to scoring the opening try for York on eight minutes but was held up by a tremendous Saints defence with the City Knights paying no attention to the reputation of the Saints as they took the game to them in the early stages.
Saints made the most of their first opportunity on fourteen with Faye Gaskin finding Danielle Bush with a long pass and on a big overlap to go in at the corner. Beth Stott missed the conversion.
The lead was doubled on the twentieth minute as Saints opened up the right-hand side of the field with Stott and Rebecca Rotherham combining to put Rachel Woosey over by the corner flag, both wingers now on the score sheet. Once again Stott was unable to add the conversion, the ball going across the front of the posts.
A battling solo effort from Jodie Cunningham after she broke the line forty out and shrugged off two tackles to score under the sticks. Stott added the conversion from under the sticks for a 14-0 lead, Saints easing away after a bright York start.
The fourth try for Saints was a brilliant run from Amy Hardcastle who took the ball inside her own half after Cunningham had pulled in the defence, the speedy Saints centre cutting down the centre of the field to make Stott’s conversion a formality in and bring up the 20-0 lead at the interval.
York took the game to Saints early in the second half and on forty-nine a Sinead Peach grubber kick wasn’t cleaned up by Rotherham and the kicker chased her own kick to ground under the sticks. Marshall added the conversion, York with a lifeline back into the game.
It was brief respite as three minutes later the Saints were in again as they exploited the right-hand side, Woosey finding enough space to slide over on her knees and ground in the corner. Stott’s kick didn’t make it to the posts, but Saints had a 24-6 lead.
On fifty-seven the Saints got one hand on the trophy as they recorded their sixth try of the afternoon after a nigh passing move ended up in the hands of Carrie Roberts who palmed off a couple of attempted tackles and made it to the line to score. Stott was finding difficulty hitting the target with the conversions.
A terrific right foot step from Paige Travis on sixty-eight saw the second rower go over the top of the last York tackler and dab the ball down by the uprights, despite a heroic tackling effort from the York defence. Stott added the extras as the engraver started etching St Helens name onto the trophy.
York started both halves strongly but as Saints absorbed the pressure and the half wore on, the favourites punished every York error and ran in seven tries with only one in response to lift the Challenge Cup for the first time in their history. They look close on unstoppable in 2021 and this could be the first stage of a great 2021 double.
York City Knights: Hardy, Gentles, Renouf, Andrade, Lambert, Marshall (G), Langan, Field, Peach (T), Clayton, Wood, Sanderson, Hendry. Subs: Innes, Farrow, Hyde, Stimpson.
St Helens: Rotherham, Bush (T), Roberts (T), Hardcastle (T), Woosey (2T), Stott B (3G), Gaskin, Crowl, Jones, Akrigg, Travis D (T), Rudge E, Cunningham (T). Subs: Williams, Burke, Birchall, Rudge I.
Referee: Marcus Griffiths.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-8, 0-12, 0-14, 0-18, 0-20 : HT : 4-20, 6-20, 6-24, 6-28, 6-32, 6-34 : FT.