St Helens coach Justin Holbrook plays down favourites' tag ahead of Challenge Cup final

St Helens coach Justin Holbrook
St Helens coach Justin Holbrook

St Helens coach Justin Holbrook is playing down the role of favourites ahead of Saturday's Coral Challenge Cup final against Warrington.

It is 11 years since Saints last won at Wembley but Wolves coach Steve Price described the runaway Super League leaders as the biggest favourites in the history of the competition.

"He loves that type of stuff does Pricey," said Holbrook. "I understand that's where we sit due to the gap in the league but it's a final, there's two teams in it.

"They can use it as motivation if they want. For us we're as motivated as ever whether we're favourites or not.

"Warrington are a confident side, they don't lose confidence at that club so they won't be too worried about it, and we know we have to play well on Saturday.

"That's what we get judged on. No one cares once the ball gets kicked off who's the favourites in a game of sport."

Warrington have lost their last five Super League matches and look likely to be without talismanic half-back Blake Austin, who is nursing an ankle injury.

Austin could yet feature on Saturday despite not being named in Price's initial 19-man squad but Holbrook does not expect that to happen.

"I don't think he'll play but if he plays, he plays," Holbrook said. "We've played them twice with him playing.

"I don't mind if they miraculously get him in outside the 19, although I don't know how they're meant to do that."

While Warrington prepare for their third trip to Wembley in the last four years, it is Saints' first cup final since they completed a hat-trick of wins 11 years ago.

Only hooker James Roby, the club's sole survivor from 2008, and centre Kevin Naiqama, who was in the Fiji team that lost 64-0 Australia in the 2013 World Cup semi-finals, have experience of playing at Wembley which made Friday's captain's run all the more meaningful.

"It's great to get out there and have a light run ahead of tomorrow," Holbrook said.

"It wouldn't have worried me either way - we went to Anfield this year and hadn't trained on that - but it's nice to get a bit of familiarisation. It's an extra bonus."

St Helens' England prop Alex Walmsley says he was having to pinch himself as he trod on the famous turf for the first time.

"I've been down a few times as a spectator but it's the first time as a player," he said.

"It's incredible. I was talking last night about it. Only seven or eight years ago I was knocking about in front of 200 people at Crow Nest Park for Dewsbury Celtic.

"To be walking out at the greatest stadium in the country, I've got to pinch myself."

With the exception of forward Matty Lees, St Helens are at full strength, with Holbrook bringing back full-back Lachlan Coote and loose forward Morgan Knowles after they missed the semi-final against Hull through injury.

Half-back Danny Richardson and utility forward James Bentley are expected to drop out of Holbrook's 19-man squad.

"It's been tough because all the young guys are playing really well," Holbrook said. "It's hard when they're delivering for us every week but the regular boys are there for a reason."

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