Miners Rangers on the Challenge Cup trail

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A look ahead to this weekend’s action in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup third round including Leigh Miners Rangers’ clash with West Hull.

Saturday, March 7

Leigh Miners v West Hull (2.30)

While many community clubs hope to be drawn against professional opposition, Leigh Miners coach Alan Coleman said they are over the moon to be playing West Hull: “We’re really looking forward to it, they are the team everyone wants to beat and it will give us an idea of where we need to be, if we’re there already or what we need to work on,” he said

“We’re making a big day of it, we’ve got Alex Murphy down as our guest of honour and it’s generated quite a bit of press for us so hopefully we’ll get a big crowd.”

Their last game was a friendly against Leigh Centurions reserves. “That was fantastic for us, we were really strong and only lost in the last minute,” he said. “We looked really good, so hopefully we can take a lot from that and put it into practice on Saturday.”

Oulton Raiders v Normanton Knights (2.00)

This match, between two local rivals, has all the makings of an intense cup tie. Raiders coach Jamie Benn said: “It’s going to be a difficult game for us but the lads are really looking forward to it, it’s going to be exciting.

“So far we’ve had two friendlies and played the first two rounds of the cup so we’ve played every week. There’s always room for improvement but it will be a big ask for us on Saturday.”

His opposite number at Normanton, Paul Seal said: “We’re really looking forward to it, we’ve trained well this week and the build-up has been good. There’s always a bit of an edge when you play Oulton Raiders, they we in our league last year and got promoted so we’re expecting a tough game.”

Wath Brow Hornets v Newcastle Thunder (2.00)

Cumbrian community side Wath are looking to create an upset when they take on League 1 club Newcastle Thunder. “It’s going to be an interesting game,” said coach Ian Rooney. “Obviously they’re a league above us but the Challenge Cup has seen a few upsets and hopefully we can create one on Saturday.

“We’ve played two games in the Challenge Cup and a friendly and I’m really pleased with the way the lads have been going. We know how hard it’s going to be but we’ve trained well leading up to this game and hopefully we will get another good result.”

For Newcastle coach Stanley Gene, going to Cumbria reminds him of home: “I grew up in the mountains of Papua New Guinea where people are so passionate about the game and it’s the same in Cumbria,” he said.

“I think it will be my first game over there since 1997. I take my hat off to Wath Brow and the people who are running the club. I’ve been here for 20 years and to see a club like that doing well over that time, it’s a job well done.

“Like any club who play in a division below, they want to beat you and test their skills against the best teams.”

Thunder beat Oxford in the iPro Sport Cup last week and while Gene wasn’t entirely happy with his team’s performance he said: “A win is a win, we can only get better.”

London Skolars v Swinton Lions (3.00)

London Skolars were hammered 78-10 by York City Knights at New River Stadium last week in the iPro Sport Cup and will be looking to restore some pride at home to Swinton on Saturday. Coach Joe Mbu said: “After the first 20 to 30 minutes you would have never predicted that result. We scored first and looked fine in terms of what we were doing but what undid us was the amount of errors in the early part of the game and the lack of kicks to build pressure.

“On a couple of occasions we did more than 20 tackles because we kept giving away possession and not completing our sets and at some point those elements come back and bite you. It was very disappointing

“It doesn’t get any tougher than Swinton. Against Hemel they were apparently quite clinical in both defence and attack and to nil someone at any level you’ve got something right. It’s certainly going to be a challenge but we’re in a sport where you get an opportunity to redeem yourself whatever the result from the previous weekend and we certainly have an opportunity against a top side and a quality team.”

Swinton put 34 points past Hemel Stags without reply in their iPro Sport Cup tie but coach John Duffy isn’t getting carried away: “It was a good first competitive hit out for us,” he said. I’m really pleased with them not scoring and we’re looking forward to this week in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.

“Joe’s doing a great job and they’ve got some big boys who run hard, we’re going to have to aim up after a long trip down there. They will have had a roasting off Joe and will come out at 100 miles an hour. We’re going to have to deal with that.”

Kells v Rochdale Hornets (5.00)

Rochdale coach Ian Talbot was pleased that the Hornets kept a clean sheet in their 40-0 victory over South Wales Scorpions in the iPro Sport Cup but won’t be taking community club Kells lightly: “Kells have come up through the National Conference leagues with promotion after promotion and they’ve got some really good players led by Carl Sice,” he said.

“Cumbria are renowned for producing good players and I think one or two of them would do well in the professional game. Travelling up to Whitehaven at any point of the season is going to be tough. We are under no illusions it’s going to be a tough game.”

SUNDAY, MARCH 8

Barrow v Keighley Cougars (2.00)

Barrow came through a tough encounter with the University of Gloucestershire All Golds last week, winning 16-14 in terrible conditions.

Barrow coach Paul Crarey is well aware of the threat posed by Keighley: “We played them in a pre-season game and came from behind to run out comfortable winners but they hadn’t had a game and we’d had a couple so we expect a different Keighley,” he said.

“They are very, very experienced with good halves in Paul Handforth and Danny Jones while James Feather is a good hooker. They’ve got threats all over the park so it will be a great contest.

“It’s a learning process for our young team and it’s a different challenge for us because they are full of experience. We’re looking forward to it, every game for us is a progression for the club.”

Keighley coach Paul March was pleased with his side’s 64-0 win over East Leeds in the iPro Sport Cup in what could have been a potential banana skin: “We went about our business in a professional way,” he said. “I thought the performance from one to 17 was excellent and hopefully that will build confidence for this weekend.

“We’ve already played them in pre-season and it was a game of two halves. Hopefully there will be a good crowd there and a good atmosphere. It’s a game we’re looking forward to.”

South Wales Scorpions v York City Knights (2.00)

Mike Grady, the South Wales Scorpions coach, is looking forward to the Cup game against York: “The Ladbrokes Challenge Cup is a special competition,” he said. “We’re at our new home in Mountain Ash against a quality side, so it’s got the makings of a great weekend.”

“York are going to prove tough opponents, they are a dangerous side who seemed to have clicked straight away. I’m got confidence in my lads and know if we switch on from minute one we will give a good account of ourselves. “

York coach James Ford said: “We performed to a reasonable standard last Sunday but we’ve got a couple of areas we need to improve on. We’ll be going down to Wales very much focused on raising the bar even higher.

“I’ve not seen too much of South Wales but generally, from my experience against Welsh teams, they are good rugby players who are generally athletic and tough, We’re going down there expecting a competitive fixture and obviously the journey itself is a challenge for us as well.

“I grew up watching the Challenge Cup, it’s a fantastic competition for all rugby players and everybody involved in the sport. It certainly is iconic and I’m sure the 17 I select will be really excited to be involved in it on Sunday.”

Hemel Stags v Oxford (2.30)

Hemel were on the end of a 34-0 hammering at Swinton in the iPro Sport Cup last week but coach Troy Perkins took some positives out of the performance: “It served a purpose,” he said. “We know we’re a fair bit off those top teams, we were on the back foot for long periods of that game. Some players know they’ve got a fair bit to work on if they’re going to perform well at this level and it was a bit of an eye-opener.

“Oxford are a decent team. I watched them play Newcastle and I think the score probably flattered Newcastle. They carry the ball well and have a couple of smart half-backs and a strike player outside in Kashley Watkins.

“We’re expecting a tough game. In every match we’ve played against Oxford in the past two years, there’s only been a couple of points in it so I think it’s going to be another close game. We need to improve in certain areas if we’re going to beat them.”

Oxford conceded 56 points in their defeat to Newcastle but coach Tim Rumford said: “While there’s no getting away from a 50-odd point defeat, I don’t think the score line really did us justice. They scored 28 points in the second quarter and really showed their quality in key positions. We couldn’t get our hands on the ball for that period – that was the difference between the two teams. For the rest of the time we were really going toe to toe so I suppose the report is ‘good in patches’.

“We need to put those patches together for the full 80 minutes which is what we’re looking to do this weekend. We’ve got a young, enthusiastic team and are certainly going to trouble a few teams. I’d like to think that Sunday’s game could be a competitive game against one of the teams around us.”

North Wales Crusaders v Widnes West Bank (2.30)

Crusaders won 36-10 at West Hull last week and take on another community side this weekend. Coach Anthony Murray said: “Last week we came up against a strong side who have had a lot of success and had a lot of momentum approaching the game so it was really pleasing to walk away with the win. It was pleasing all round but West Hull gave us a really stern test.

“Going into the West Bank game, we’ll give them the respect they deserve and we’ll be taking them very seriously. We’ve prepared exactly the same way we do for every game - as if they were a professional side.

“It’s going to be another tough afternoon for us and we’ll have to be on our mettle to get what we want out of it.”

West Bank coach Richard Hughes said: “It’s going to be a little bit quicker and a little bit tougher but it’s all on the day isn’t it? We’re underdogs with nothing to lose and lots to gain. We’ll work on our game plan and look to make our completion rate good.

“We’ve had a couple of lads back from Widnes Academy and we’re buzzing. We’ll have a coach going over there so we should have a few followers as well.”

University of Gloucestershire All Golds v Skirlaugh (3.00)

Lee Greenwood’s All Golds were beaten by Barrow in a tough iPro Sport Cup game last week but the coach reckons his team can take a lot out of the defeat: “It was tough, conditions were bad to say the least but we did well and took a lot of positives out of it with one big negative – we didn’t win,” he said. “I’m disappointed to be honest and I want my players to feel that, I don’t want them to be happy with just competing against a northern club.

“I daresay before the weekend Skirlaugh would have been thinking this is one they could win – then they would have seen the result and thought ‘maybe not’. We’ve got to turn up with the same attitude we had at Barrow, We need to go into this game with a professional attitude and play to the best of our ability if we want to come away with a good victory.

“We’re certainly going into it knowing we’ll have to play well.”

Skirlaugh coach Colin Brown said: “The lads are really looking forward to it, it’s a good test. We’ve got a couple of new players and they’re mixing in really well, we’re going OK. We played them a couple of years ago but the side’s really changed, we’re expecting them to be a lot bigger and stronger than us and a lot quicker. We’ll be up against it but it’s up to us to try and challenge them the best we can.”

Oldham v Coventry Bears (3.00)

Oldham and the Coventry Bears face each other for the second successive week with Oldham winning their iPro Cup encounter 42-6. Oldham coach Scott Naylor said: “The conditions played a massive part, it was very windy with rain and sleet and the pitch didn’t hold up very well. Considering the conditions I was happy with the way we played.

“The approach will be exactly the same this week. To be honest it’s probably more difficult playing the same team when you’ve won by just short of 40 points. There’s a tendency for your lads to drop off a little bit in intensity and it’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“The conditions will obviously be different and could change the game but we’ll approach it like it’s a brand new game. We have spoken about it several times this week to make sure there’s no complacency and give a 100 per cent performance.”

Coventry coach Tom Tsang said his team will have learned valuable lessons from the first encounter: “Fourteen of the 17 who were involved in the game were playing at that level for the first time,” he said. “It was a little bit of a mismatch in terms of experience and there’s lots of lessons to be learned in terms of the speed and the intensity of the game.

“It was a great learning experience for our guys. Obviously you go into every game wanting to win but realistically a win for us, in terms of our development, is an improvement on last week in terms of score line and performance. We’ll be going up there with a better insight into what we need to do at this level.”