GARETH WALKER of League Express looks ahead to the weekend’s Challenge Cup action.
THIS weekend sees the Championship clubs join the Coral Challenge Cup, with a host of fascinating clashes in prospect.
The BBC has chosen the Yorkshire derby between Keighley Cougars and Bradford Bulls to screen online on Sunday afternoon, where a bumper crowd is expected to see Craig Lingard’s side attempt to upset the odds.
It is the biggest match since the relaunch of the Cougars, and John Kear – the old master of the Challenge Cup shock – will be wary of his team playing the fall guys for once.
Having recorded an impressive 26-12 win over Leigh last weekend, the Bulls will justifiably start as strong favourites.
Two former Cup winners meet at Sheffield, where the Eagles host Leigh Centurions in one of just three all-Championship ties.
With both currently in the top five after encouraging starts to the campaign, that should be a cracker.
The other two second tier clashes see Featherstone host a Swinton side that recorded their first win of the season at Barrow last Sunday, and the Raiders looking to bounce back from that defeat at home to York 24 hours later.
There are still four amateur teams left in the competition and all will harbour dreams of one more win and a meeting with a Super League big gun.
The OuRLeague live match is the battle of the Crusaders, with Thatto Heath hosting North Wales today (Saturday).
Tomorrow Lock Lane travel to Batley, West Hull are at Dewsbury and Featherstone Lions host Doncaster at the LD Nutrition Stadium.
It’s a big ask for any of the quartet to progress, but history has shown it is far from impossible.
Elsewhere, Oldham have moved their home tie with Widnes to Stalybridge’s Bower Fold home to accomodate the travelling army of Vikings supporters, while Halifax face a tricky trip to table-topping and unbeaten Hunslet after having struggled to find any consistency to date.
Whitehaven will be looking to repeat their 2018 win over Rochdale, having toppled the Championship side 38-0 on their own ground last year.
The match will also see Hornets coach Carl Forster and player Dan Abram return to their former club, after having played for Haven in that victory.
With four Super League clubs joining in the next round, including Leeds Rhinos, the prospect of a coffers-boosting tie will act as a major incentive for everyone.
Gareth Walker is the Championship correspondent for League Express and writes his Championship Focus column every week for the newspaper.