Date: Sunday 29th March
Venue: Park Lane
Swinton Lions and Newcastle Thunder are both 80 minutes away from securing a spot in the inaugural iPro Sport Cup Final which will be the curtain raiser for the Championship Summer Bash in May. Who will be making the trip to the tower in two months’ time?
In The Last Round
The Lions performed the ultimate smash and grab at Cougar Park a fortnight ago according to John Duffy to secure this semi-final tie.
Swinton fell behind after Rikki Sheriffe grabbed the game’s opening try before taking the lead after Grant Beecham touched down a Chris Atkin grubber before Atkin himself raced forty metres after a break from Aaron Lloyd. Atkin got a second after breaking free following a mix up in the Cougars defence and despite Scott Law crossing for the home side, Stuart Littler dived over in the corner for the Lions. Keighley pulled the scores level after tries from Brendon Rawlins and Jesse Sheriffe but a Paul Handforth high tackle allowed Atkin to convert the penalty to win the game.
Newcastle came storming back from 18-0 down away at the York City Knights to win comfortably at York RUFC and secure a semi-final spot.
Benn Hardcastle and Lee Mapals crossed to get the Thunder within eight points of York heading into the half time interval. But Stanley Gene’s side blitzed a shell shocked Knights with the PNG trio of Jason Tali, Mark Mexico and Charlie Wabo along with Captain Jason Payne also sharing the fruits of the sides labours to inflict further misery on the division’s crisis club.
The two side’s packs will decide the way this game goes with the Lions and Thunder both boasting two of the most powerful front rows in the division.
Despite losing loanee Rhodri Lloyd back to parent club Wigan, John Duffy has the impressive Morrison trio along with Andy Ackers and the regular try scorer Grant Beecham in a pack which can cause more damage in attack than in defence.
Thunder boast Mark Mexico, who needs no introduction to supporters on either side of the world, as well as long serving Captain Jason Payne who is very familiar to all in the Championship and League One. But Andy Ackers needs to be handled well and Stanley Gene has that man in Charlie Wabo, the battle of the hookers will be pivotal to the outcome of this game.
What The Coaches Say
Swinton Lions Head Coach John Duffy:
“We had a really tough Challenge Cup tie against Rochdale at the weekend and we’ve picked up a couple of knocks so that’s going to give the opportunity for some other players to step up and come into the fold,” said Duffy. “We are really looking forward to this game.
“Newcastle are a great team, they have a great coach in Stanley Gene, he’s brought in some big, strong lads and we know we are going to have to work hard to beat them.
“Keighley came out at us all guns blazing and I think we were lucky to win that game, we need to come out on Sunday with a much better attitude.”
“It would be massive for the club to get to the final, especially for the supporters, there’s been a lot of doom and gloom over the last few years,” said Duffy.
“I think the Summer Bash is a great concept and I really think this competition has sparked a new life into our division: you can’t beat knock-out rugby and it would be absolutely fantastic to make the final.”
Newcastle Thunder Head Coach Stanley Gene:
“We are going really well at the moment, we were disappointed with the result against Dewsbury in the Challenge Cup last week, we came up with a lot of errors and let our chances slip,” said Gene. “We must learn from that if we are going to carry on progressing and beat bigger teams.
“Swinton are one of those teams, they have been in this league for a lot of years and they have some class players. I just hope we can push forward and put up a good fight.
“York are a good side and I know they have beaten us plenty of times in the past so that just shows how much we have improved over the course of last season.
“It is going to be a great game on Sunday, this club have struggled for years and we have slowly worked our way up. To get to the final would be fantastic, there are some great people here who have worked so hard and it would be good to put a smile on their faces.”
The Thunder are in red hot form after comfortably seeing off Oxford and York in the League Cup as well as defeating Wath Brow and very nearly Dewsbury in the Challenge Cup. But, North Wales friendly aside this Swinton outfit are a freak of nature and looking untouchable at the moment, this and home advantage sends the Lions off to the Pleasure Beach. – Swinton by 16