1st June 2010
You know the great thing about the Northern Rail Cup...it can set clubs back on the right track again.
Take Barrow Raiders for example. They've had their fair share of injury problems which has been reflected in some tough games for them in the Co-operative Championship.
But playing in a knockout Cup competition is different and gives the players something else to focus upon. That's why, like the Carnegie Challenge Cup, the Northern Rail Cup is such a tonic for players and clubs.
And, isn’t is strange how many times it happens! A club is suffering in the league and the goes on a great Cup run. When they go back to the league they’re revived and back on track for success.
Life’s a bit tedious for me at the moment because I'm out of action with a painful groin injury. I’ve had some surgery and on the road to recovery. But it's so frustrating being on the sidelines at an exciting time of the season not just for my club Leigh Centurions, but the whole of Rugby League.
But taking time out for recovery and rehabilitation has given me an opportunity to reflect on the quality coming your way with the Northern Rail Cup Quarter Finals. Four fascinating games and eight ambitious clubs all determined to take some silverware as well as make a point to the rest of the sport.
Let’s look at the four ties and see what mouth-watering prospects they offer the fans.
Keighley Cougars v York City Knights
This is tough one to predict. York are going well in Championship One while Barry Eaton’s boys are giving it their best shot in the Championship having had to come from a minus nine-point start to the season.
Assistant coach Chris Thorman has been out injured for the Knights but if the classy stand-off is available for the Knights it will certainly increase their chances at Cougar Park.
The Cougars have chalked up some impressive results beating Dewsbury Rams, Whitehaven and Sheffield Eagles away from home. That proves they are worthy of respect and they’re a good footballing team. The two sides have had some tussles in the last couple of seasons but I think home advantage will tell for the Cougars.
Widnes Vikings v Barrow Raiders
Wow, this has to be the tie of the round. Paul Cullen's Vikings have been erratic this season but they have some great players in the side who are capable of beating the very best on their day.
We played the Vikings in a televised game not long ago and, although we beat them at the Sporting Village, they impressed me. After a calamitous first half they had enough ability to change their tactics on the hoof and we had a real struggle to see them off in the end. Only good teams have that talent and that makes them slight favourites in my book.
As reigning champions the Raiders demand respect and they have a great coach in Steve McCormack, but they’re not as consistent as last year so they have a great deal of work to do to make it through to the semi-final draw.
Batley Bulldogs v Sheffield Eagles
Head Coach Karl Harrison has fashioned the Bulldogs into a very capable team. They proved that by beating Widnes Vikings and that’s not easy to do! Playing on the slope at Mount Pleasant gives them a slight advantage because they know how to play it best and they've got enough smart players to take advantage too.
Sheffield Eagles have enough class players on their staff to pull off a good result but first they’ve got to solve how to deliver 80-minute performances. In successive televised games we saw them make flying starts against both Dewsbury Rams and Keighley Cougars and then falter in the middle of both games.
They got out of jail at the Tetley’s Stadium with a clinching penalty in the dying seconds against the Rams, but failed to see off the Cougars after a second-half fight-back at Bramall Lane.
What a fascinating encounter this will be.
Hunslet Hawks v Leigh Centurions
My own club go into action against Championship One opposition in the shape of the Hawks. But we won’t be taking anything for granted. Our coach Ian Millward will make sure of that – believe me!
The Hawks are going well in the league and they're a tidy side with the two aces in the hole, brothers David and Paul March.
The March twins are to fierce competitors and they drive their team forward. We will have to be on our best form to cope with them and we're expecting a tough match.
So there we are four superb games in the Northern Rail Cup quarter finals – and eight teams who are all fancy their chances of being in that semi-final draw. What a recipe for excitement and great Rugby League action. Enjoy yourselves.