Love Rugby League’s key storylines from Challenge Cup Round Six draw

Aaron Bower
Leigh Leopards Challenge Cup Alamy

Leigh Leopards lifted the Challenge Cup in 2023

The draw for Round Six of this year’s Challenge Cup has thrown up some mouthwatering ties – but also some incredibly fascinating subplots.

With all four Championship teams left in the competition drawing Super League opposition, it means there are some fantastic cup ties in store later this month. Here’s our pick of the big stories – and there were a fair few to choose from.

Can Batley heap enormous pressure on one of their favourite sons?

It’s probably up for debate what the standout tie of the round is but in terms of a big storyline, it’s difficult to look past Craig Lingard’s return to Batley Bulldogs for the first time since leaving them at the end of last season.

Lingard, who had a terrace named after him in honour of his incredible achievements there as a player, left the Bulldogs in the winter to step up to Super League with Castleford. He would have hoped for a fortunate start to their Challenge Cup run after a chastening start to the season in Super League but as luck would have it, he’s heading back to Batley with his new club.

With a tricky trip to Catalans on the horizon this Saturday, it’s entirely possible Castleford head to Batley without a win under Lingard. How much pressure, therefore, are the Tigers under heading across West Yorkshire to face Championship opposition? The thought of the club which Lingard holds so close to his heart potentially piling even more pressure on his new club makes that tie one of the standout draws.

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A game-changing afternoon for Sheffield

You’ll hear plenty of stories in the next week or two about Sheffield Eagles summoning the spirit of 1998 following their tantalising draw away at Wigan Warriors. Of course, that story writes itself given what happened the last time they played in a notable Challenge Cup tie.

But the reality is a tricky draw away at the reigning world champions is going to be a near-impossible task to progress through. However, this could be a draw that has far bigger ramifications than just one afternoon for Sheffield. It throws open opportunities for media coverage – and we know how IMG enjoy that – plus the chance to earn some valuable revenue from the trip to the DW Stadium.

Mark Aston will certainly have his squad up for the fight – but this could be a draw that has just as big an impact off the field for the Eagles, as well as on it. And in reality, that’s what the Challenge Cup should be about.

Can Mark Aston summon the spirit of 1998?

Who takes the BBC’s Sunday slot?

There will be, it seems, just one televised tie in Round Six on the BBC, and that will be reserved for the iPlayer on the Sunday afternoon. But who takes that plum slot is a tough task to predict.

The obvious candidate would be Leeds versus St Helens, the tie of the round when it comes to prestige. But Saints have the Good Friday derby against Wigan the following Friday, and Leeds play Thursday, so that would rule both that tie plus the aforementioned Wigan versus Sheffield draw out.

Castleford’s trip to Batley can also be scrubbed for the same reason: they play Leeds on the Thursday of Easter weekend. So too can Hull KR versus Salford and Hull FC versus Huddersfield, given the two Hull clubs play on Good Friday too. That leaves one of two ties: Halifax versus Catalans and reigning holders Leigh versus Featherstone. One of those, it seems, will get the nod. Speaking of which..

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Can the holders survive a tricky task?

If you’d offered Leigh a home tie against Championship opposition to start their defence of the Challenge Cup, they’d have certainly taken it. But suddenly, things look a little different: not least because of what the opposition achieved on Sunday.

Featherstone’s win over Wakefield in their first competitive meeting since 1998 caught more than a few people off-guard, and Rovers will fancy going to the Leigh Sports Village next weekend without much pressure on them. Conversely, you feel Leigh need a win this weekend in Super League to avoid going into that tie with huge pressure on their shoulders.

If they don’t, it’s set up beautifully, you feel.

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