Challenge Cup: St Helens' super fortunes when the year ends in six

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport
St Helens win the 2006 Challenge Cup
St Helens's 2006 side were double winners, following in the footsteps of the 1966 side
Challenge Cup sixth round: St Helens v Hull FC
Venue: Langtree Park Date: Sunday, 8 May Kick-off: 16:30 BST Coverage: Live television coverage on BBC Two, with radio commentary on BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Humberside

The joy of six. Six appeal. Six of the best.

St Helens' achievements in the Challenge Cup are a headline writer's best friend.

Five out of the past six decades has seen the Red Vee victorious in the Challenge Cup - 1956, 1966, 1976, 1996 and 2006.

In fact, you could even argue it puts Spurs' FA Cup success "when the year ends in one", as the Chas 'n' Dave song goes, in the shade.

The class of 2016 will look to continue that remarkable record when the road to Wembley begins with Hull FC in the sixth round on Sunday.

BBC Sport looks at their past successes, and the anomaly of '86.

1956: Starting the run

St Helens 13-2 Halifax

Saints' love affair with the competition began with their maiden success in 1956.

Almost 80,000 people packed into Wembley for the showpiece, as Lancashire and Yorkshire did battle under the twin towers.

Captain Alan Prescott was man of the match in a game which saw all the points scored in the second half, with tries from skipper Frank Carlton and Steve Llewellyn.

Austin Rhodes converted two of the tries as the Red Vee lifted the trophy at the fifth time of asking.

1966: 'There wasn't a weak spot'

Alex Murphy
Alex Murphy captained a Saints side he described as "being 15 great players"

St Helens 21-2 Wigan

With Alex Murphy captaining the Saints, and a team containing the talents of Tom van Vollenhoven, Peter Harvey and Cliff Watson amongst others, St Helens capped a hugely successful 1965-66 season with Challenge Cup final glory.

Saints smashed their rivals at Wembley, with Murphy dropping a late goal to seal the win after tries from John Mantle, Len Killeen and Tommy Bishop.

"That team was the one of the best St Helens have ever had," Murphy told BBC Sport. "Some teams have three or four great players but we had 15. There wasn't a weak spot.

"Wembley meant everything to us. Even the great Australian players that came to Saints, they would always say 'we want to win the Challenge Cup'.

"I remember getting the cup - you needed two hands on it, because I remember one time I got a bang on the hand and it nearly went tumbling down the stairs.

"It wasn't just about Wembley, it was about winning the Challenge Cup and the celebrations - it was as much about people lining the streets in the towns en route to the town hall, cheering and clapping."

1976: Overcoming the 'Cup Kings'

Eric Ashton
Eric Ashton had already won the cup as a player and followed that as a coach

St Helens 20-5 Widnes

St Helens, coached by Eric Ashton and led by Kel Coslett, again dominated at Wembley despite their tag as 'Dad's Army'.

Coslett, Billy Benyon, Jeff Heaton, John Mantle and Tony Karalius were all long-standing Saints stalwarts, but it was relative recent signing Eddie Cunningham and Peter Glynn who popped up with crucial tries to put the Red Vee on their way.

"Look at the moments of exhaustion, with the adrenaline gone," said BBC commentator Eddie Waring as the Saints players fell to the turf on the hooter at the end of a sapping game in the middle of a heatwave.

Players were on salt tablets and some lost about a stone in weight at the end of the game.

Cunningham was later to play for Widnes in a Challenge Cup final, winning the Lance Todd Trophy, but it was with Saints where his first memories of Wembley were cast.

"It was thanks to (Widnes captain) Reg Bowden for the 'Dad's Army' tag," said Cunningham. "I think he regretted that, he was saying they would need to borrow the cricket scoreboard from Lord's.

"Our forwards, Mantle, Coslett and Eric Chisnall, they were smashing in and when I look back I can still see their faces.

"A couple of their players had to have running treatment, and their physio Harry - a lovely bloke, who I got to know well later - said that he should have had their Man of the Match award because he did more running than any of the players.

"There is no word to describe what I felt, it was magical, I'll never forget it and even when I played in another final it was never the same as that first."

1986: The anomaly

Challenge Cup round two: Wigan 24-14 St Helens

Saints' bid for further success in the six looked on course at Central Park, after a Harry Pinner-inspired first-half performance gave them a 10-4 lead.

However, Wigan showed their qualities in front of a packed crowd after half-time with unanswered points from David Stephenson's brace and a Steve Hampson try easing them 10 points ahead.

Shaun Allen gave Saints some hope, but Ellery Hanley settled the tie when he finished off a fine scrum-base move to keep the holders Wigan on course.

There was some comfort for Saints, though, as eventual winners Castleford ensured their great rivals would not go on to lift the trophy by seeing Wigan off in the quarters.

1996: Bobbie Goulding's masterclass

Bobbie's brilliance blows away Bulls

Challenge Cup final: St Helens 40-32 Bradford Bulls

The 1996 final was arguably the greatest of the modern finals, and certainly one of the greatest games to be staged at the national stadium.

Such was the Saints effort that not even Robbie Hunter-Paul's hat-trick for the Bulls could deny Shaun McRae's side their glory.

Brian Noble's Bulls were dangerous through Hunter-Paul's elusive running, but Saints showed character and class, notably through Bobbie Goulding, who showed mastery with the boot to pepper Bradford full-back Nathan Graham in the sunshine.

Goulding, the skipper, was the grateful recipient of the trophy at the end.

2006: Part one of the double

Sean Long and Paul Sculthorpe
Sean Long (left) and Paul Sculthorpe were key to the 2006 success

Challenge Cup final: St Helens 42-12 Huddersfield

Saints were irresistibly good in 2006, winning the league-and-cup double.

With then-reigning Man of Steel Jamie Lyon, captain Paul Sculthorpe and current head coach Keiron Cunningham in the side, not to mention star playmaker Sean Long, the Saints made sure Jon Sharp's Giants were unable to upset the formbook in the last final before the return to the rebuilt Wembley in 2007.

Long picked up a record third Lance Todd Trophy in the match, scoring a try and moving the team around the park with a devastating kicking game.

"When I won the first I didn't really take it in, but as you get older you savour the finals," Long told media after the game.

"It could be my last final, so I've taken it in a lot this week. It's getting better and better and it feels sweet."

2016: Will the fortune continue?

St Helens' hopes of reaching the final and continuing their six-themed fortunes rest on Sunday's home tie with Hull FC at Langtree Park.

Only Wigan and holders Leeds have won more finals than the Saints, while their opponents on Sunday have never won the cup at Wembley.

Hull won the league encounter by a point little over a month ago, with Marc Sneyd's drop goal settling the match.

One positive omen? Saints' last visit to the national stadium came against the Airlie Birds in 2008, securing a third consecutive success.

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