Wigan Warriors will face Leeds Rhinos in the Challenge Cup semi-finals after a commanding win over Hull FC.
On this evidence, Wigan are very strong contenders for a record-extending 20th cup crown. They got the job done early in this quarter-final, scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes and never looking at risk, particularly after two more quick tries put them 26 points in front at half-time.
Bar one slip against Hull Kingston Rovers, it’s been a faultless run for Adrian Lam’s men since the season’s restart. They’re not the type of side to blow a team away with a 50-point win, although they did threaten to do so here, but they are always brutally competitive and fiendishly difficult to outrun and overpower.
And the fantastic academy system at the club means that it remains constant. In most other teams, starting with 19- and 22-year-old prop forwards in a Challenge Cup quarter-final would be identified as a weakness to exploit, but Ethan Havard and Oliver Partington led from the front in that destructive start, added to later by 20-year-old Joe Shorrocks.
Of course, it helps when there is the additional power of Liam Farrell, who has been in inspired form since lockdown, and the seemingly immortal Sean O’Loughlin, almost as old as both of those props put together. Combine that base with the skill, flair and intelligence of Bevan French, Jackson Hastings and Zak Hardaker, and you have a team more than capable of winning the big prizes.
For Hull FC, the days of winning this competition – most recently against Wigan in the 2017 final – seem a distance memory. They were outgunned at the outset and thoroughly dispirited thereafter; nobody expected a comeback, least of all themselves. Even with some key men missing from their backline, it was an inexplicable performance.
Story of the match
From the first minute, the middle of the AJ Bell Stadium pitch belonged to Wigan. Hole after hole was punched in Hull’s defence, culminating in Sam Powell marking his 200th appearance for the club with the opening try, a darting run over after an offload from the old master O’Loughlin.
Farrell then made it 12-0 before 10 minutes were on the clock, forcing his way to the front of a tangle of chasing bodies to touch down Hardaker’s kick in-goal. Hull errors meant that pressure just kept coming, and French was the next to celebrate when he spun round the lame challenge of Marc Sneyd.
Only towards the end of the first half was there any real challenge from the Black and Whites, but a disaster final three minutes meant their cup hopes were as good as gone by the break. First came a great passing move to release Hardaker, who expertly kicked back inside for French to score again, and then on the hooter a rare Hull attack on the line culminated in Carlos Tuimavave fumbling Mahe Fonua’s offload and Joe Burgess running the distance. When it’s not your day, it’s not your day.
Hull found some courage to stand up in the second half and avoid the kind of blowout score they’ve suffered all too often in recent years. There were still two more tries to come from Wigan though, with Farrell getting a second after good work by O’Loughlin and Harry Smith, and Havard then sending Oliver Gildart over.
At that point there was one team still full of life and one which looked dead on its feet, but Hull rallied to put some points on the board at last with 10 minutes to go; Jake Connor making a good run and Fonua smashing his way to the scantest of consolations.
While Wigan take on Leeds in a blockbuster semi-final, the other last-four tie will see Salford Red Devils take on holders Warrington Wolves.
Wigan’s win was preceded by a highly entertaining rematch of last season’s final between Warrington and St Helens, with Wire triumphing 20-18.
Both semi-finals are scheduled to take place on October 3, with the final another fortnight later, on October 17.