GIANTS caretaker coach Kieron Purtill believes it would take a brave man to bet against St Helens in tomorrow’s Challenge Cup final.
Purtill will be leaving Huddersfield at the end of the season to become the No2 to new head coach Mick Potter at St Helens.
That will make the current joint Giants chief – he shares the duties with former Saints prop Paul Anderson – more than an interested spectator in rugby league’s showpiece event.
And he feels it is difficult to see beyond a St Helens’ victory this weekend as they bid to make it three final triumphs on the trot.
“With the form St Helens are in right now, Hull have got a really tough task on their hands,” said Purtill, who was assistant to former coach Jon Sharp when the Giants were beaten by Saints in the 2006 final at Twickenham.
“As well as being a side at the very top of their game, they also have the edge in terms of having the players with the big-game experience. They’ve all been there and done it before.
“I suppose that’s the main reason why (St Helens coach) Daniel Anderson decided against the traditional eve-of-final walk-about.
“Saints were obviously at Wembley last year and will be using the same changing rooms, so they know exactly what it’s all about. They won’t really achieve anything by doing it.
“By declining the offer, they’ll have some more time to prepare for the final itself – it takes over two hours to do the walk around Wembley and be transported from their hotel there and back – and that’s something that should also count in their favour.
“But even though I expect St Helens to win, I hope Hull give it a really good go, because that would be good for the game. We don’t want the final to be totally one-sided.
“I’m sure it will be competitive for the opening 40 minutes, but then I can see Saints stepping up into fifth gear and taking total control, a bit like they did against us in 2006 and against Catalans Dragons last year.
“Because I’ve been an assistant coach at St Helens in the past and will be back there again next season, I obviously hope they do well. But I think it’s more important it’s a competitive game.”
Purtill believes the likes of vastly-experienced campaigners Sean Long, Keiron Cunningham and Paul Sculthorpe will be at the heart of the success.
But he wouldn’t be at all surprised if the matchwinner was Leon Pryce.
The former Bradford utility player goes into the final in the form of his life, but with points still to prove.
Pryce has enjoyed his best season yet with St Helens and is the bookmakers’ favourite to win the Lance Todd Trophy tomorrow – an honour he shared with Paul Wellens a year ago.
The England stand-off been delighted with his form this season, but warns there is more to come.
“I think it’s a progression,” he said. “In my first year it was a matter of finding my bearings and I think last year I had a good year but I probably wasn’t fit enough to make an impact for the full 80.
“This year I’ve basically done what I knew I could do and I know I can do a lot more. You never stop learning and you should keep improving each year.
“It’s a gradual build-up hopefully for the next four or five years of playing my best rugby.”
The one dark cloud hanging over Pryce’s immediate future, for both club and country with the World Cup looming, is an appearance in court following an alleged incident in Bradford last month.
He is due to appear before magistrates, alongside another ex-Bradford player, Stuart Reardon, next Thursday charged with assault and using violence to gain entry.
“I would by lying if I said I wasn’t worried about it because that’s natural,” he said.
“But that will take care of itself. I want to just try and concentrate on my rugby.
“It’s a big year for me rugby wise and I want to stay focused and help us win tomorrow.”