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St Helens

Prince Harry spurned a weekend with the rest of the family at Balmoral to be at Wembley. 

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He may well be left to reflect on a decision well made after Warrington Wolves put on a show fit for a king, never mind a prince, to stun favourites St Helens at Wembley. 

Led by the magnificent Stefan Ratchford, and in the absence of injured playmaker Blake Austin, the Wire pulled off one of the biggest shocks in the history of this grand old tournament.  

St Helens' Mark Percival tackles Josh Charnley of Warrington Wolves during the final

St Helens’ Mark Percival tackles Josh Charnley of Warrington Wolves during the final

Mark Percival has a try disallowed by video referee Ben Thaler in the first half

Mark Percival has a try disallowed by video referee Ben Thaler in the first half

Mark Percival has a try disallowed by video referee Ben Thaler in the first half

St Helens and Warrington Wolves players in action during the Challenge Cup final
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St Helens and Warrington Wolves players in action during the Challenge Cup final

St Helens and Warrington Wolves players in action during the Challenge Cup final

It was a closely-fought contest for long spells at Wembley, but Warrington were more clinical

It was a closely-fought contest for long spells at Wembley, but Warrington were more clinical

It was a closely-fought contest for long spells at Wembley, but Warrington were more clinical

Why? Because St Helens are widely regarded as the best team in the country – and for good reason. 

They are 16 points clear at the top of Super League. Warrington, despite a strong start, had lost their five matches and had looked like they had no idea where their next win was coming from. They know now. 

Somehow the underdogs took everything Saints, who may well feel aggrieved with referee Robert Hicks, hurled at them. They did not budge. 

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After taking a 12-0 lead into the break they faced immense pressure. When the gap was cut to eight points they could have wilted. Somehow they did not and when hooker and man of the match Daryl Clark forced his way over with eight minutes to go their dream was realised. 

The celebrations will go on long into the night. And so they should. Warrington and their weary supporters had been beaten in their last six finals. They deserve this, as does their likeable coach Steve Price who was doused in energy drink at the hooter.  

Warrington Wolves fans soak up the atmosphere on Wembley Way before the game

Warrington Wolves fans soak up the atmosphere on Wembley Way before the game

Warrington Wolves fans soak up the atmosphere on Wembley Way before the game

Warrington Wolves fans were in good spirits before kick off, dreaming of an upset victory

Warrington Wolves fans were in good spirits before kick off, dreaming of an upset victory

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Warrington Wolves fans were in good spirits before kick off, dreaming of an upset victory

St Helens fans were hoping for their team's first Challenge Cup triumph since 2008

St Helens fans were hoping for their team's first Challenge Cup triumph since 2008

St Helens fans were hoping for their team’s first Challenge Cup triumph since 2008

It was not champagne, that will come later. Saints should have been in front after three minutes when Morgan Knowles grounded a Theo Fages kick. For reasons known only to himself, Hicks did not even send it upstairs to the video room. 

Desperate defence at both ends kept the game scoreless, but on the 24th minute the men in red and white had further reason to feel angered when a Mark Percival try was harshly ruled out. 

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Hicks this time had the sense to ask for the video ref’s view but the man upstairs ruled that Percival’s team-mate Zeb Taia had lost the ball rather than, as he would say, had it ripped out by an opponent. 

It quickly got worse when quick-thinking Wire sub and hometown boy Joe Philbin spotted a gap and powered over to give the underdogs the lead – and a scent of an upset. 

Then it got worse again. This time, full-back Lachlan Coote – who had a nightmare afternoon – dropped a Stefan Ratchford bomb and from the resulting set of six Ben Murdoch-Masila went over on the right against a shell-shocked St Helens defence. 

Again, Ratchford converted and at 12-0 it was on. As if to emphasise the point, with half-time approaching and Saints attacking, Warrington won a scrum and Ratchford- who had a six-week trial at Liverpool before choosing league celebrated like he had just scored a goal in front of the Kop. He knew.  

Prince Harry wishes the players good luck moments before kick off

Prince Harry wishes the players good luck moments before kick off

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Prince Harry wishes the players good luck moments before kick off

Arsenal legend and Rugby League President Tony Adams (left) was in attendance on Saturday

Arsenal legend and Rugby League President Tony Adams (left) was in attendance on Saturday

Arsenal legend and Rugby League President Tony Adams (left) was in attendance on Saturday

This was the first time these two traditional powerhouses had met in the big one

This was the first time these two traditional powerhouses had met in the big one

This was the first time these two traditional powerhouses had met in the big one

Following the break, it could have been curtains when Tom Lineham went over from a play-the-ball on the Saints line but video referee Ben Thaler ruled obstruction. 

TEAM LINEUPS

St Helens: Coote, Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Fages, Walmsley, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Knowles Interchange: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Ashworth, Paulo Head Coach: Justin Holbrook

Warrington Wolves: Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, King, Charnley, Currie, Patton, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Murdoch-Masila, Hughes, Clark Interchange: Akauola, Philbin, Davis, Mamo Head Coach: Steve Price 

Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham)  

 

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A tremendous flying tackle from Bryson Goodwin then kept out a trademark dive from Saints Tommy Makinson at the corner before another fumble, this time from Regan Grace behind his own line, gave Warrington much needed respite and territory. 

It did not last. Saints appeared to go up three gears. After a ferocious spell of pressure Fages finally breached the tiring primrose and blue wall to get them on the board in the 56th minute. 

Coote, unforgivably, could not add the extras. And so, a breathless clash rumbled on. With 10 minutes to play the magnificent Ratchford pulled up with cramp. 

Nobody could blame him – he was everywhere. In Austin’s absence Ratchford took control and marshalled his side expertly. His was one of the great performances under the arch and he was unfortunate not to pick up the Lance Todd Trophy. 

You felt that Warrington had somehow seen off the worst of it. And with eight minutes to go hooker Clark went over to spark delirium among the Warrington contingent in a 62,717 crowd. 

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This was the first time these two traditional powerhouses had met in the big one. It is to be hoped it is not the last.