Stars of the women’s game take centre stage on Saturday as St Helens clash with York City Knights in the Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup Final.
Though a host of Saints stars featured in cup finals for Thatto Heath Crusaders prior to the advent of this team, the game will feature two first-time club finalists and so a new name will be on the trophy in 2021.
Both sides have their own motivations and stories to tell, but starting with Saints, they have been consistent frontrunners in the Women’s Super League, but this will be their first major final as a club and they will be hoping to get off the mark with a bang.
“Before it was still called the Challenge Cup for women, prior to the Women’s Super League,” Saints star Jodie Cunningham told this week’s 5 Live Rugby League podcast.
“Back then it was just the next step up, a big game and the chance to prove you were the best team in that competition, but it didn’t feel like the Challenge Cup in the sense of the great competition that we associate with the men, with all the heritage and esteem.
“It didn’t have that essence until the last few years. The opportunity we get now, being on the BBC live for the first time ever, that’s added pressure, but it makes it so much more special to be part of it.”
🤩 One more sleep!
— Betfred Challenge Cup (@TheChallengeCup) June 4, 2021
In the opposite camp, York’s meteoric rise from Championship outfit, to Super League strugglers, then one of the most ambitious clubs in the top tier would be capped in rapid fashion with a win.
The Knights boasted only a couple of England contenders in previous years, while success was measured in number of wins, not honours.
But since the arrival of highly-rated former Castleford Tigers coach Lyndsey Anfield in the off season, they have only been looking upwards.
Already showing green shoots of ambition earlier in the year, Anfield persuaded five Castleford stars to join her for the York revolution and the club enjoyed an almost instant pay off as they sprung a surprise in knocking out 2018 Super League champions Wigan at the quarter final stage.
“They’ve still got lots of talent that they had there already,” Saints’ Cunningham said of this weekend’s opponents.
“But they’ve stepped up another level because they know they’re really fighting for something now. “It’s definitely not just the new signings we have to be aware of, as a team they look dangerous. But we’re focusing on ourselves, as we did in the Leeds game.
“Obviously we’ve looked at their games, we’ve analysed them, but we know that if we play as well as we can and to our potential that we can definitely lift that trophy.”