The Garry Schofield Column: Great to see British coaches battle for Challenge Cup

Well done to Matty Peet and Ian Watson.

I might not have called the Challenge Cup semi-finals correctly, but I’m still pleased at the prospect of a Wigan versus Huddersfield final at Tottenham on May 28 – and a showdown between two bright young British coaches.

Wigan took a bit of a punt on Peet, but so far it’s working out well and, as I’ve often said, bringing in Lee Briers was a great move.

Liam Farrell and John Bateman are playing well, and against St Helens, Cade Cust and Harry Smith also caught my eye, as did the way Wigan refused to panic when their opponents hit back in what was an entertaining game.

A fine performance not only got Wigan back to the Challenge Cup final, but also underlined that Saints won’t have it all their own way in their bid for a fourth straight Super League title.

Huddersfield also have designs on making their mark in the play-offs, but before that, Watto is back in the Challenge Cup Final after taking Salford there two years ago.

And you have to say fair play to him on the way he came up with such an effective plan to eliminate Hull KR’s major threat Ryan Hall.

The Giants were methodical in the way they targeted him, forcing him to defend in order to sap some of his energy, and limiting his attacking options.

As for Hull KR, their pack looked well below par, and they certainly have some work to do if they are to match last year’s achievements in the league.

My Round 12 predictions

It’s refreshing to see three Super League matches taking place on Sunday afternoon, which, let’s face it, is the proper spot for Rugby League.

Obviously, Sky want to screen games at a time that suits them, and those who pay the piper call the tune.

But why are clubs who aren’t being shown live so keen to play on an evening?

It doesn’t make sense to put themselves up against a live TV match, and it doesn’t do anything to attract visiting supporters.

There’s plenty of interest in the three Sunday clashes, especially the one in France, where Toulouse take on Wakefield.

It’s a real four-pointer, and Sylvain Houles’ men, who are currently four points adrift at the foot of the table, will have long targeted it as a must-win.

After four straight league losses and five in all competitions, Trinity badly need two points as well, but I think they’ll come back empty-handed and closer to that dreaded bottom spot. Toulouse by ten.

Rohan Smith takes charge of Leeds for the first time at Salford, who might have lost five on the bounce in the league (six if the Challenge Cup is included) but pushed both Wigan and St Helens close.

The Rhinos really need to kick off the Smith reign in style, but I reckon the Red Devils will come out on top by ten.

As for Castleford and Hull KR, I think a weekend off will benefit the Tigers, who will be victorious by twelve.

Wigan should be too strong for hosts and their fellow Challenge Cup finalists Huddersfield on Thursday (I’m predicting a 14-point victory) but I think St Helens could come unstuck at home to Hull on Friday, with the Black and Whites winning by eight.

On Saturday, I think Steve McNamara’s Catalans will overpower their visitors Warrington by 24.     

The Cumbria debate

I had a cracking trip to Cumbria with my son Jonathan to watch Workington play Batley – thanks to everyone at Derwent Park for their excellent hospitality – and it really brought home what an asset the county is to our game.

It’s such a shame it’s been neglected by the powers-that-be over the years.

There are three solid professional clubs up there in Workington, Whitehaven and Barrow, and a strong community game, and it’s a region that is steeped in Rugby League.

Just look at the number of Cumbrians turning out in Super League, and the number of players the three professional clubs recruit from the plentiful amateur teams in the area.

The trio seem to have been very much left to fend for themselves, and all three have had spells in League One, but for this season at least, they are all in the Championship.

Workington have found it more of a struggle than Barrow since being promoted last season, but they gave it a real go against a good side in Batley, and I think Craig Lingard would admit to being relieved to have come away with the win.   

There are geographical issues to overcome, because while Workington and Whitehaven are neighbours, it’s a bit of a trek down to Barrow.

I get that each club has its own identity and heritage and I understand the rivalry between the three.

But wouldn’t it be good if a big backer came along and a new Cumbria side could be established to play in Super League, with the three existing clubs acting as feeder teams?

That way the supporters would still have their own clubs to follow but could come together to get behind the regional side.

It’s been shown by Challenge Cup ties against Super League opposition and when World Cup games have been hosted that Cumbrians will turn out to watch big matches and create a great atmosphere.

On my visit, I talked to quite a few Workington fans, some of whom remembered their club’s tough sole season in Super League back in 1996.

They agreed that a combined Cumbria side is the only way they’ll have top-flight representation in the future, and that while older supporters might not like the idea to start with, with some perseverance, they could be persuaded to back such a project.

PNG’s NRL bid

On something of a similar theme, it’s been interesting to read about the Papua New Guinean proposal to put a team representing the country into the NRL.

If successful, they would become the 18th club after the Dolphins of Redcliffe in Queensland join the competition next year.

There’s also been talk of a second New Zealand team alongside the Warriors, one based in Perth or one from the Central Coast between Sydney and Newcastle, so it’s far from cut and dried.

I think it would take some serious money to set up a PNG team, although they do have the Hunters in the Queensland Cup, so logistically, it can be done.

It would also take a bit of patience to get them up to speed, and it might be hard sell to get top-level Aussie and Kiwi players agreeing to be based there.

But one thing’s for sure – the public would get behind the idea.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had three trips to PNG with the Lions, in 1988, 1990 and 1992, and played in Port Moresby and Goroka, while also visiting Lae.

We were treated superbly. The people there really love their Rugby League, which is the national sport, and are passionate when they turn out to support their country, so I’m sure most matches would draw capacity crowds.

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