Wingers on collision course as Wembley beckons

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Wingers Ryan Hall and Josh Charnley come face-to-face this evening with not only a trip to Wembley on offer.

For the two speed merchants are not only rivals at club level – Hall’s Leeds Rhinos face Charnley’s Wigan Warriors in the Challenge Cup semi-final – but also on the international stage.

Both played in England’s recent two-game series with the Exiles and have one eye on securing a place in the squad for next year’s Rugby League World Cup.

Charnley is Super League’s top try scorer with 25 touchdowns this season but missed Wigan’s win at Wakefield with a calf injury he sustained whilst playing for Steve McNamara’s side.

He is included in Wigan’s 19-man squad today and will come up against Hall, who has 16 tries this campaign.

“He (Charnley) is a good player,” said 24-year-old Hall. “I have spent some time with him in England camps and it’s good to get to know people like that, all the good players around you.

“I don’t know if he will be playing but he came off with a bang on the calf in the England game last week, which is unfortunate for him.

“But whoever plays for Wigan, they have got so many good players you know they are all good enough to come in and do a good job. The last time we played them, they had five big names out and we saw what happened then,” added Hall, referring to Wigan’s 50-8 thumping of Leeds last month.

“It’s not imperative he plays for them, but it would be nice to play against him, one on one for the England winger’s spot.”

Wigan stand between Leeds and a third successive Wembley final, although you have to delve back to 1999 and a 52-16 win over London Broncos for the last time they lifted the Challenge Cup.

“We have got a bit of a ‘grim’ about us regarding the Challenge Cup,” said Rothwell-born Hall, who was just 12 in 1999. “We have got a bit of a hoodoo going on.

“It’s 13 years since Leeds last won it, so we need to get over that hurdle sooner or later. There’d be no better way than doing it this year.”

The Rhinos suffered heavy defeats to Wigan and Warrington at the start of June, but since then have shown some form with four straight Super League wins against Wakefield, Castleford, London and Hull FC.

“That was a bit of a low point in our season (against Wigan),” said Hall. “We weren’t performing very well and they were really in their stride. That result on the day showed where we were at, but a few weeks have gone by since then.

“We have been performing a lot better and we’ve got some momentum now. They had a bit of a slip against Bradford the other week, but they are a good side and that won’t affect them too much.

“Hopefully, it will all go well for us on the day and the fairytale will be written.

“We have used that Wigan game as a bit of a manufactured turning point in the season. We have had to turn things around, the way we do stuff at training and on the field, especially.

“Things have been going really well, with four wins. We had a high-scoring game against Wakefield when we attacked well, but didn’t defend very well.

“It was a similar sort of thing against Castleford and we scored a lot of points against London. Defences were on top in the Hull game and they only scored one try. Hopefully, we’ll get back to that this week.”

While Hall has picked up three Grand Final winners medals to date in 2008, 2009 and 2011, he now has an eye on securing a Wembley final triumph against either Warrington Wolves or Huddersfield Giants.

Hall added: “We’ve won three out of the four big ones, but the Challenge Cup evades us.

“We need to get the monkey off our shoulder and go out there and win it. What better way to get to the final than beating last year’s winners, who beat us?”

Leeds prop Kylie Leuluai and second-row forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan return to the Rhinos squad for the match at the Galpharm Stadium after being rested last week for the win over Hull FC, while Richard Moore misses out.

Of Brian McDermott’s 19-man squad, 15 played in last season’s extra-time semi-final win over Castleford Tigers and the resulting trip to Wembley.

The four not involved last season were former Huddersfield duo Shaun Lunt and Darrell Griffin, and rising stars Steve Ward and Zak Hardaker.

Lunt, in fact, needs one try to reach a career century of touchdowns.

He has scored 57 for Workington (2006-2008), 36 for Huddersfield (2009-2012), five for Leeds (2012) and one for England Knights (2012).

Team-mate Rob Burrow also needs one try to reach 150 for the Rhinos, having touched down 149 times in 347 games for the club since 2001.

Along with Charnley, Michael McIlorum, Jeff Lima and Paul Prescott return to the Wigan squad.

Dangerman Sam Tomkins is also eyeing a personal milestone. The England star has touched down 99 times in 117 games for Wigan since 2008.

richard.hercock@ypn.co.uk