After the cut and thrust of the regular league, the Challenge Cup takes centre stage in the UK this weekend.
All four matches are televised, two on Sky and two on the BBC. First up on Sky Sports this Thursday is Widnes Vikings at home to the Keighley Cougars. A bumper crowd is expected after both clubs agreed to allow juniors into the game for free. Kevin Brown, one of the leagues top performers in 2013 Brown, one of the form players of the 2014 Super League season, is well aware of the threat that Championship opposition presents, especially after a hard-fought victory over Halifax in the fourth round, but believes that if Widnes play to the standards they have set so far, there is no reason why Vikings fans can’t look forward to a Cup semi-final.
“Keighley have some quality players but if we can play the way we know we can, then we can win comfortably,” said Brown.
“Having a home draw is a massive boost for us. In the last two Cup rounds we have played away at Halifax and at Salford, and they were both really tough games. “Keighley will not be coming to us to lose the game, and they are probably happy that they got us in the draw. The game is set up nicely. “The tie against Halifax might have looked comfortable in the end on the scoreboard but it was anything but.”
Widnes head into their quarter-final tie seventh in the Super League table and Brown wants the successful first half of the season to be followed by an equally-impressive second half.
Keighley will be looking to bounce back after a defeat in the Kingstone Press championship to Halifax with their own hopes of a semi final. This will not be an easy game. The Cougars are used to battling and will make it as hard as possible for the Vikings to cross the whitewash on the Select Security stadiums now famous iPitch.
I only see the Vikings winning here.
Game two is also on Sky, and it sees the Leeds Rhinos take on the Championship leaders Leigh Centurions. They also have designs on making certain that they are one of the elite when promotion resumes next season. Leeds will be looking to regain the challenge cup that they last won in 1999, having been beaten finalists a number of times since then, a win at Wembley is much overdue for the loyal fans of this club.
The wait for challenge cup success is also long overdue at the Leigh Sports Village. 1970 was the last time they lifted the famous old trophy, and although they have eyes on Super League, the chance to progress to a semi final will be hard to resist. Leeds will be looking to stalwarts like Jamie Peacock & Kevin Sinfield to push on and show Leigh just how tough life in the top flight will be.
Leeds will easily overpower Leigh, but again, it wont be an easy game.
The first all top flight clash on Saturday sees the action switch to the BBC as Wigan Warriors take on the Castleford Tigers. Shaun Wane will be on the hunt for the Tigers come Saturday. This mans desire to win is immense! There is a rumour in the press areas that someone saw him smile when his team scored once, but no one had a camera to catch the moment! I’ve never seen anyone as focused on his teams total performance as he is. No one likes to concede points, but, hell, he takes it personally! This will be a tough, brutal game.
Daryll Powell on the other hand has his Tigers burning bright. They do not seem like the same side of last season. Anyone who thought losing Rangi Chase would hurt the team have been made to eat their words. Classy Cas are back in a big way, and the two top contenders (in my opinion) for the England job once Steve McNamara is out of contract post four nations will relish this chance to show the terrestrial TV audience just how well the game can be played. I see Castleford nicking this. Wigan can blow hot or cold, but Cas will be hard to beat.
The final game of the round sees Bradford Bulls take on Warrington Wolves. Bradford are improving game after game at the moment, and despite looking odds on to be relegated only a couple of weeks ago, Francis Cummins has begun to forge a team that with a little luck, could see them in a Semi Final for the first time since 2007, when they fell to St Helens.
Warrington on the other hand are another team that blow hot or cold. Just ask Leeds Rhinos! After 4 straight wins in the league, is now the best time for Bradford to face them? I think that Bradford might just edge this one. At home, with a decent crowd behind them and a bit of belief, this will be close and Bradford will march on.