Saints Women win fourth Challenge Cup in a row!

St.Helens Women beat Leeds Rhinos Women at Wembley Stadium to secure a fourth Betfred Women's Challenge Cup trophy in a row, winning 22-0 in an absorbing fixture!

Lucy Murray for the Rhinos got the game started with a short kick-off which the Rhinos managed to recover for a cagey opening minute for the Saints, but Matty Smith’s team showed resilience to stop the early threat.

Five minutes into the match an awkward Caitlin Casey inverted grubber was knocked on by Beri Salihi 10m off our own line. More solid defence though kept the Rhinos out and Hanna Butcher’s high kick was caught strongly by Leah Burke who got out of her in-goal.

The first sightline for Saints of Leeds’ try-line ended with an Emily Rudge drive towards their 10m, Rhinos would get pinned in their own 40 as the Red V continued showing good early tackling.

As expected, the game was an arm wrestle with both sides predominantly playing in the middle channel of the field. Leeds from a deep kick got the first major chance of the match, Salihi got an unkind bounce of the ball by our own line, Phoebe Hook then knocked it on and Liv Whitehead followed it with one of her own for the Rhinos. A video ref check confirmed it was not a score.

Into the second quarter and Saints looked a little livelier in attack, Burke taking two carries in her own half to take us into the opposition territory, with Darcy Stott coming on for the Red V. A huge, high bomb went up from Butcher which Salihi dealt with brilliantly.

Former Saint Shona Hoyle hit Zoe Harris late gifting us some goodball position, only the second time St.Helens went into the Rhinos’ 20m. Shaping up deep, Faye Gaskin decided to juke around the Leeds middles instead and forced her way over for the opening points in the 25th minute! Gaskin would add on the extra points with the conversion for a 0-6 lead.

The set following the first score finished with Harris kicking over the Leeds backline, Hook made a phenomenal, textbook tackle on her opposite winger in the corner, and she would get a just reward for it moments later as Nom Williams and Katie Mottershead came on the field. Mottershead’s impact at hooker was being felt by the Leeds middles, she sped the ruck up and gave Saints a bit more zip in their attacking pushes.

St.Helens were pushing for a second on the left-edge and a Leeds hand touching the ball gave us six more tackles. Switching it over to the right-edge a short side play from Harris saw the halfback deliver a hit-out pass to Phoebe who dived in for our second try! Gaskin’s effort for the conversion was a great one but just short of going over in front of the posts. 10-0 with 9 minutes in the first half left.

With much more control of the match Saints hunted a third try before the half time hooter, a Gaskin grubber to the post pad almost landed perfectly for Cunningham on the line, but Hoyle took her team out of danger. However, she would follow it up with a high shot on Salihi in the final minute, forcing our #1 off for a head injury assessment as the final major act in a bruising opening period.

The rain began to fall as the match restarted and Salihi passed her HIA to return to the field.

The first major chance of the second half saw Saints keeping Leeds on the back foot, a high-hanging kick was contested by Hook and Caitlin Beevers which the Leeds centre touched forward into Saints hands for a new dangerous set. Darcy Stott charged in off the restart and then our Red V Women flooded the left-edge, Rudge fed Luci McColm who went over the try line and after video ref check was confirmed to have grounded it! Gaskin added the extra two points from near the sidelines for a 0-16 scoreline in the 45th minute.

A bit of relief for Leeds came after Williams was judged to have knocked on at the play of the ball near the halfway line. The Rhinos’ first piece of goodball territory in the second stanza finished with a Casey cross field kick which our #5 Burke took, copped a big hit after it, and then got up to take metres.

Burke on the next defensive set leapt on a loose ball which former Saint Amy Hardcastle did not take cleanly. Georgia Sutherland with two players all over her lost the ball charging in by the Rhinos’ 40m line, it gave Leeds some impetus to attack – 50 minutes played. A line break was slowed by Salihi and then Burke with a third big moment in as many minutes completing the tackle.

Three close calls would come as Matty Smith’s Women looked for a fourth V try. Cunningham close to the line sought to power over but Murray and Keara Bennett together kept her just centimetres out. Mottershead then wanted to fire a short ball to Williams but the pass was too strong. After a ball strip penalty, Harris and Paige Travis looked to link up but the pass was forward, an untypical pass selection from Harris whose passing had been so good all game long. By the hour mark both sides began looking fatigued, trading errors and mistakes.

Seeking to fight their way back into the game, Leeds kept trying to throw different plays or options at the St.Helens defence, a smart chip kick from Casey was caught by Ruby Enright but Salihi and Hook stopped the Rhinos fullback.

As it was in the opening half, the match turned into a middles arm-wrestle again, with Saints continually frustrating Leeds with their resolute defensive work. More evidence of that from Burke once more, a smart kick to the Leeds winger and our #5 put Liv Whitehead back into the in-goal for a goal-line drop-out.

Leeds went short at the restart which unlike at the start of the match did not work. Vicky Whitfield charged under the posts but was short of the line, Tara Jones dropped a short pass off for Channy Crowl to go over for St.Helens fourth Wembley score! Gaskin from bang in front of the sticks made it 0-22 with just under nine minutes left.

Not happy to settle with what we had, our Women’s team wanted more points. Calmly pulling the ball from left to right, Harris chipped to the wing for Hook who almost caught the ball and spun to grab a brace but not to be.

The clock ticked down as this St.Helens Women’s team further cemented their places in history, a fourth straight Challenge Cup trophy secured, back-to-back at Wembley Stadium!

Match Summary

Saints Team: Beri Salihi, Phoebe Hook, Erin Stott, Luci McColm, Leah Burke, Zoe Harris, Faye Gaskin, Vicky Whitfield, Tara Jones, Channy Crowl, Paige Travis, Emily Rudge, and Jodie Cunningham

Interchanges: Naomi Williams, Darcy Stott, Katie Mottershead, Georgia Sutherland

18th player: Pip Birchall

Tries: Gaskin (25), Hook (30), McColm (44), Crowl (70)

Conversions: Gaskin 3/4

Rhinos Team: Ruby Enright, Liv Whithead, Caitlin Beevers, Amy Hardcastle, Evie Cousins, Hanna Butcher, Caitlin Casey, Grace Field, Keara Bennett, Izzy Northrop, Shona Hoyle, Lucy Murray and Bella Sykes

Interchanges: Sophie Robinson, Zoe Hornby, Bethan Dainton, Ella Donnelly

18th player: Jenna Greening

HT: 0-10

FT: 0-22

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