And then there were 8! We’re at the quarter-final stage now folks and it’s knock-out football all the way from here to Blackpool at the end of July.
This year’s Northern Rail Cup is chugging along nicely and one glance at the last eight draw reveals four highly competitive and very watchable match ups.
No surprises that it’s the Co-operative Championship sides with a point to prove that have progressed. Swinton and Workington were both in with a shout but that counts for nothing now. Encouraging to see that crowds were up on last year for the group games. Let’s hope that continues for the remaining seven fixtures.
It’s a tough one to call when it comes to selecting the stand out tie. Holders Batley Bulldogs face a very tough challenge at Dewsbury Rams. After winning the tournament in such sensational style last season it’s clear that Karl Harrison’s charges are going to have to do it the hard way again!
There will be masses of local Heavy Woollen pride at stake and you can rest assured that Dewsbury will be going all out to steal a bit of their rival’s glory but if Batley do emerge victorious then don’t bet against them pulling off a fantastic repeat of Blackpool 2010! Both sides have had a solid start to their league campaigns and there will be no excuse for rustiness going into this one.
Two of the competition favourites go head to head at the Leigh Sports Village. My own Leigh side take on Widnes Vikings and the stands will be really rocking with a guaranteed massive travelling support from just down the road. That can make such a difference in ties like this but they’re facing Leigh who have a few fans of their own don’t you know?
If you’re looking for a form guide then read nothing into recent performances. The other weekend Centurions demolished Widnes with a brilliant second-half display but that will count for absolute zilch. If anything Widnes will be going all out for revenge and with someone like Dennis Betts at the helm then you know they’ll fight to the very final hooter.
Leigh are going great guns. A 100% start to the season and there’s a real sense of excitement in the town about this game.
Super League hopefuls Halifax have their own fascinating tie in prospect away at Toulouse. I don’t think Northern Rail trains reach there yet but there will be a fair number of Calder folk heading to the south of France to cheer them on.
Fax have already tasted defeat on French soil this season and whilst Toulouse have made an unimpressive start to their league campaign they’ll be desperately keen to nail the league champions again and continue the journey to Blackpool. It might bring a touch of ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the Golden Mile were they to go all the way!
Last and by no means least there’s an all West Yorkshire affair at the South Leeds Stadium with Hunslet Hawks playing host to competition favourites Featherstone Rovers. The newly promoted Hawks just squeezed into the last eight but they give absolutely nothing away. The gutsy March twins know that they have what it takes to really test a Featherstone side that is still hurting after their Northern Rail Cup no show in 2010.
It could well be a cracker. You really don’t know which Hunslet side will turn up. It could be the side that turned over Widnes so impressively in the league recently or it could be the team that got cut down by Batley. That said, if Daryll Powell’s well-drilled side are on their game they will take some holding.
Let battle commence. It’s all getting very exciting and we are guaranteed four intriguing contests!
Robbie Hunter-Paul is the Northern Rail Cup Ambassador