Since their three consecutive wins in 2006-2009, St. Helens haven’t reached the final, and haven’t progressed past the quarter-finals since 2011, whereas Widnes are now 30 years without a Challenge Cup victory - but last year progressed past the quarter-final stage for the first time in over a decade.
Inconsistency is the unfortunate vice for the Widnes side at the moment. Having won four games in a row, including a shock victory against Leeds, the side have lost their previous three games.
Startlingly, none of those losses have been close, with margins of eight points, 13 points, and 22 points.
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Saints can boast something of a different form book. Though they lost against Castleford last time out, they were on an unbeaten run of six games before that. They were wins that included victories over Wigan and Warrington within the same fortnight.
St. Helens also have two victories over the Vikings in the league already this season. The last time that that occurred – back in 2012 – Saints also knocked Widnes out of the Cup.
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Cup not the priority for Widnes
Widnes are in a position wherein the Cup, for them, is not a main priority. Sitting uncomfortably in 10th place, they are a point away from guaranteed safety, but two of the teams above them – Hull FC and Hull KR – both have a game in hand. They also have games to play against Castleford, Catalans, and Wigan, all of whom are placed above them in the league.
A season without silverware for the Vikings will, it must be admitted, acceptable, so long as relegation is avoided.
Saints out to win the cup
Where the importance for Widnes is survival, Saints are in a position where the importance is success. Looking to build upon their Grand Final victory last October, there cannot be any doubt of their need to continue to win trophies: they were without any major trophies between 2008 and 2014.
Both sides have had their misfortunes with players’ injuries this season.
St. Helens players Lance Hohaia and, only this week, Paul Wellens, have both been forced to retire through injury. The side are also now playing with their, arguably, fifth choice fullback, after the injuries of the aforementioned duo, as well as Lomax and McDonnell.
The club this week announced they’ll be looking to sign another replacement fullback for the remainder of the season.
Widnes’ injuries came early in the season, and Dennis Betts is now able to name as close to his best 1-17 as any coach in the league.
Saints are bound to be the favourites, and rightly so, with form, history, and home advantage all on their side. But the Vikings have a habit of surprising the Saints, and if they’re not blown away too early, there is a chance –albeit a small one – of a famous cup upset.