As the 14 Super League teams enter the Challenge Cup this weekend, one Challenge Cup winner believes there are no easy games in the earlier rounds anymore against the Championship clubs.
Mickey Higham was part of the Warrington Wolves side that defeated Huddersfield Giants in last year’s final at Wembley. On the way they met Featherstone Rovers in the fifth round at the Bigfellas Stadium. This year Warrington face Featherstone again, and Higham knows his side will not take the Championship side lightly.
He said: “”Featherstone were pretty tough last year. I know the score line was comfortable but it was a really physical game. They’re a pretty decent side with a few ex-Super League players so they will be confident before coming here. We just can’t afford to be complacent and we need to get out of the blocks and start well.””
Higham is looking forward to a full Challenge Cup campaign after rupturing a bicep forcing him to miss the ten games immediately before the final.
He said: “”I don’t want to retain the cup this year, I want to go out and win it again. I’m not too keen on the word ‘retain’. It’s a massive competition with such prestige. I would like to get back to Wembley because it’s a fantastic stadium. The whole occasion is brilliant and once you get a taste of it you want to get back there again.
““There are not too many teams that double it up year after year so hopefully we can make a bit of history. We want to win that trophy and keep it here.””
Six Super League teams face Championship and Championship 1 opponents this weekend, and while it was Warrington who succumbed to the last great cup upset in 2006 against then National League side Hull KR in the quarter finals, there are similar scenarios between then and this weekend’s encounter at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
In 2006 Hull KR were leading the way in National League One. This year Featherstone are on top of the Championship after six wins in six games. Their latest was a 40-16 battering of Sheffield Eagles, another team who arguably created the biggest cup upset of all time when they defeated Wigan Warriors at Wembley in 1998.
Mark Aston led Sheffield to that famous win as captain, and now 12 years on he is the man responsible for giving the club an opportunity for a Super League licence application. But the Eagles currently lie two points above the relegation spot after six games, so as Sheffield prepare to take on their 1998 finalists in this year’s fourth round match the chances of them achieving the same feat are very much in doubt.
While the main focus of this weekend’s games will be on Hull FC V Leeds on Saturday and Huddersfield V Hull KR on Sunday, the six Championship teams will be looking to overcome the odds against their Super League rivals. Dewsbury host Bradford, St Helens welcome the visit of Toulouse, Castleford welcome Cumbrian side Barrow to the Jungle, while the Crusaders are looking for their first Challenge Cup win as a Super League side against York City Knights.
The Crusaders lost 32-6 away to Hull KR in last year’s fourth round tie, but this time they have a coach who has tasted Challenge Cup success in Brain Noble. Noble led Bradford to a dramatic 2003 cup victory against Leeds at the Millennium Stadium, and will hope that his current team can beat York and go onto make the final like Huddersfield did in 2006, and Warrington in 2009.