Challenge Cup Magic

Eye On Rugby League by Tony Williams

Competitions like the Challenge Cup are renowned for producing cup upsets, but this makes them no less exciting when they happen. This Sunday, it was the turn of Conference Premier League side Thornhill Trojans to have their moment of glory, defeating Workington Town 16-12.

Before I go on I should probably apologise to any Workington fans, as they won't want to be reading this week's column. There's some stuff further down about Harlequins and Castleford if you're interested.

Shocks such as these are, by the nature of rugby league, much rarer than in soccer for instance. This means that acts of giant killing like Thornhill's are all the more surprising. It must take an absolutely monumental effort from an amateur side to defeat professional opponents over eighty minutes.

The heroes for the Trojans were Craig Holmes and Richard Pachniuk. Holmes scored a try and kicked four goals to edge his side ahead, while Pachniuk was the catalyst, seemingly involved with every attacking move. The victory will live long in the memory of those two players.

In fact, the victory will live long in the memory of all those involved with it – there is no doubt that it will rank as one of the club's proudest achievements. And they still have a trip to Les Catalans to look forward to.

Meanwhile, Widnes St Maries, West Bowling, Ovenden and Kells will be hoping to emulate Thornhill when they take on Barrow, Keighley, York and Halifax respectively in the postponed games tonight. Could there be another shock on the cards?

Harlequins Home Hoodoo

Having defeated Hull FC and earned a highly respectable draw with Bradford, you'd thing that Harlequins (I'll add ‘RL', just in case you think I've suddenly decided to talk about rugby union) were looking at a top six finish. However, losses to Wakefield and Castleford suggest that the Quins may be staring down the barrel of relegation.

So what's the difference? The difference is that Harlequins' top performances have come away from home, while their defeats have come at Twickenham Stoop.

The club vehemently deny that the Quins are not able to win at home, but there was a similar situation with London Broncos back in 2003. The Broncos achieved some wonderful results on the road but struggled to find their form at Griffin Park. That London's first ‘home' win of the season came in round thirteen against Widnes – and it was actually at the Talbot Athletic Ground in Aberavon – tells the story quite well.  

At the time head coach Tony Rea had his own theory why this was happening. He felt that when the players met up before a home game, their attitude was too casual and social – ‘did you see that on telly last night?' etc.

On the other hand, on the long trips away to the north of England (or south Wales) the players had got the small talk out the way and got down to business.

As an outsider looking in, it's not really possible to know what is going on within a club, but I wouldn't be surprised if it as the same problem once again. And if the Quins can't sort out their home problem, they will have to rely on away results to keep them out of the relegation mix – whether they can afford to do that remains to be seen. 

Castleford Comeback

One of Harlequins' home defeats came at the hands of promoted Castleford Tigers. The Tigers looked awful against Leeds the week before, but came from fourteen points down at the Stoop to win 34-20.

Ryan McGoldrick controlled the game for the Tigers, with excellent passing and movement, while it was forward Danny Ward who sparked the revival by coming off the bench with ‘14-0' on the scoreboard.

The win means that Cas' jump to eighth in the table, ahead of Harlequins, Wigan, Wakefield and the Catalans. Early days as yet, but I feel that Castleford have enough to beat the drop and retain Super League status.

It's also interesting in the ‘promotion and relegation' versus ‘franchises' debate, that our promoted team Castleford look capable of avoiding relegation, while our franchise team from Catalonia, exempt from that relegation for two years, look as though their exemption will be invaluable come season's end.  

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