Up for the Cup
Gareth Walker looks ahead to the Championship’s involvement in this weekend’s Challenge Cup clashes
Perhaps this weekend, more than most, the absence of crowds inside stadiums will be telling.
The prospect of packed grounds at York, Featherstone and Swinton would have been a reality, and doubtless Widnes would have taken a travelling army to Salford.
Because for Championship clubs and their supporters, taking on Super League teams still matters immensely.
Those fans will have to watch via computer screens and devices instead, but there is much to relish in the four ties involving second-tier clubs.
York City Knights v Wigan, Friday 7.45pm
A few observers thought this might have been chosen as a BBC tie, such is the appeal of pitting the emerging Knights against record cup winners Wigan in a sparkling new stadium.
The match will still be free-to-air online via The Sportsman website though, and there is much to look forward to.
The Warriors’ backline will again be depleted and comes up against one that includes significant Super League experience in the shape of Ben Jones-Bishop, Ryan Atkins and Keiran Dixon.
A glance at the Knights’ pack also finds the likes of Danny Kirmond, Adam Cuthbertson and Danny Washbrook.
But they face a Wigan side that really found its feet in the second half against Wakefield on Thursday, and who start as justifiably strong favourites.
It’s just a shame that the population of York didn’t have the chance to see them in action and contribute to the continuing growth of the Knights.
Salford Red Devils v Widnes Vikings, Saturday, 12.30pm
Potential for a shock?
Salford have found life difficult in admittedly tough opening fixtures to St Helens and Hull FC, and their new-look team certainly hasn’t found its feet in attack yet.
Widnes might sense an opportunity, particularly with former Red Devil and past Challenge Cup winner Matty Smith pulling the strings and a wealth of experience in their pack via Paul Clough and Matt Cook.
It’s a shame that former Salford hooker Logan Tomkins will miss out through injury, but there are plenty of other players that have featured for both clubs, including Kevin Brown, Krisnan Inu and Adam Lawton.
But while the Vikings may well fancy their chances, Richard Marshall will see this as the perfect opportunity to kick-start the Red Devils’ season, and at the same time move to within two wins of an immediate Wembley return.
They should have enough quality to book a quarter-final place.
Featherstone Rovers v Hull FC, Saturday, 7pm
Most Super League clubs would have been wary of drawing Featherstone away and Hull FC will be no different.
James Webster’s squad has a huge amount of top-flight quality in its ranks via the likes of Junior Moors, Kris Welham, Craig Kopczak and Craig Hall.
And they have the advantage of their own pitch, which provides different challenges to any in the top division.
Throw in Rovers’ 2013 win over Castleford on the same ground, and the history of their famous 1983 Wembley win over the Black and Whites, and Featherstone will be buzzing this week.
But Webster’s side comes up against a Hull team looking ominously good under new coach Brett Hodgson, and one that has its eyes firmly set on silverware this season.
It should be cracking viewing.
Swinton Lions v Warrington Wolves, Sunday, 12.30pm
Could this be the domestic British game’s first glimpse of Greg Inglis?
Wolves coach Steve Price hasn’t ruled it out, although perhaps as importantly for Swinton fans, he has confirmed that their former favourite Matty Ashton will play after being left out against Leigh on Friday.
Ashton was a hugely popular figure during his only season at the Lions, scoring 30 tries in 25 games – many of them spectacular efforts – to earn his Super League switch.
His presence will add to the size of the task in front of Stuart Litter’s men, who went down to a disappointing opening league defeat to Oldham on Friday after having knocked the same opposition out of the Challenge Cup.
It’s only four years since the Lions stunned Huddersfield on their own ground in this competition, but despite the presence of the wily Martyn Ridyard, a repeat result is long odds against a Wolves team that clicked into gear at the weekend.
Unleashing the dual threat of Inglis and Ashton would certainly make it worthwhile watching though.
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