Cause for optimism

GARETH WALKER of League Express reflects on last week’s Challenge Cup performances by Championship clubs

As a precursor to the middle eight, last weekend’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup ties were hugely encouraging for Championship clubs.

There was of course, Leigh’s stirring win over Salford, and more of that in a minute.

But each of the other three clubs – Halifax, Sheffield and Bradford – could take plus points out of their matches with Wakefield, Hull FC and Hull KR respectively.

A couple of the scorelines blew out a little at the end, but all three teams were fully in the match on the hour mark.

Sheffield trailed Hull just 12-22 until the 70th minute, it was 22-16 at Wakefield-Halifax until Craig Hall’s 63rd minute try and Bradford were actually 30-28 up against Rovers inside the final quarter.

Part-time Halifax and Sheffield could possibly point to their opponents’ extra fitness – in fact most of the Fax team had spent the day at work before heading to Wakefield on Friday night.

Bradford remain full-time but can still be hugely enthused by their performance against a team that has beaten Wigan and St Helens this season.

All three clubs showed that should they make that middle eight, they are more than capable of being competitive.

With a bit more experience against top flight sides, and in Halifax’s case with more favourable preparation, there could be a handful of shocks. Something that Leigh Centurions proved is very possible.

Facing a club in Super League’s top four, Paul Rowley’s side showed no fear throughout, moving the ball wide on the very first play of the game. And their enterprising, expansive approach to the match paid dividends as they emerged 22-18 winners after a terrific cup tie.

The adversity that the Red Devils had to deal with shouldn’t be ignored – already shorn of several key players, they lost main playmaker Michael Dobson early on, something that Rowley conceded affected the way they could play.

But Leigh were also without four first choice players from their pack in Oliver Wilkes, Fuifui Moimoi, Matt Sarsfield and captain Sean Penkywicz, and the day definitely belonged to them.

With another bumper crowd present (6,358), the Centurions continued their major roll and earned plenty of new admirers.

Their club record winning run has now stretched to 21 matches ahead of Sunday’s home game with Batley, and they will no doubt relish the prospect of more Super League clashes later this year.

“It’s 21 victories in a row and we’ve not lost at home for a year and a half, we were never going to give that up easily,” Rowley said after the Salford win.

“Anyone who takes that away from us will have to earn it.”

And anyone who has seen the Centurions play of late won’t doubt that Rowley means what he says.

For the latest news from the Kingstone Press Championship and League One, see this Monday’s League Express