NO-ONE expects Halifax or Featherstone Rovers to win the Challenge Cup this season but it is entirely appropriate that one of the Championship sides will at least reach the quarter-finals.
That is because the West Yorkshire clubs, who meet in tonight’s televised sixth round tie, both celebrate anniversaries of such memorable feats in the famous competition this year.
There is not much between the teams and when Featherstone play Halifax they are always tight, close affairs.Jon Sharp
Saturday will mark 50 years since Featherstone beat Barrow in the 1967 final.
People will forever talk about Rovers’ glorious Wembley upset over Hull in 1983 but that first of three successes in the tournament, half-a-century ago, is cherished just as fondly.
Halifax recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of their epic 19-18 win over St Helens, John Pendlebury’s try-saving tackle, Australian veteran Graham Eadie winning the Lance Todd Trophy et al.
They have not lifted the trophy since just as Featherstone, the erstwhile mining town, have not since David Hobbs’s two tries helped them stun Hull’s superstars in 1983.
Tonight’s game at Post Office Road kicks off the sixth round, when last year’s top-eight from Super League join the competition.
Having already defeated Oldham and Bradford Bulls, another victory for the part-timers would represent a fine way to mark the anniversary of that 1957 triumph.
“Being a Featherstone lad, I know how highly regarded the Challenge Cup is in the club’s history and we want to go as far as we can,” said Rovers coach Jon Sharp, who was born just three months before that famous Wembley win against Barrow.
“It is a big game. We are up against a team who are also steeped in Challenge Cup history and that adds to the spectacle.
“There is not much between the teams and when Featherstone play Halifax they are always tight, close affairs.
“I expect this to be the same and I’m sure it is going to be a really good game for TV viewers.”
Featherstone are second in the Championship, embroiled in a fierce battle with Toulouse, London Broncos and Halifax – who are fifth, just two points behind Sharp’s side – for places in the money-spinning Qualifiers.
Leaders Hull Kingston Rovers already look certain of being able to fight for a place back in Super League.
Sharp, who led Featherstone to the top-four last season, maintains there is no pressure being so heavily involved in both competitions.
“It has been really good because we haven’t been having a break, we have been playing every week,” said the former Huddersfield Giants coach.
“When you are winning and fit and healthy and you don’t have injuries you want to keep playing.
“It is helping us with some momentum at the moment. I think we’ve seen that with Toulouse. They have only played two games in the last four weeks and they look like they’ve got a bit disjointed and rusty.
“We are enjoying playing and want to play week-in, week-out.”
Halifax coach Richard Marshall, who won the Challenge Cup three times when Warrington Wolves assistant, believes his side are underdogs.
However, having won at Post Office Road in each of the last two seasons, they are undaunted.
“Featherstone are a good side and they’re playing well; they’ve got systems that work for them and they do the basics very well,” said Marshall.
“They’ll be favourites, but it’s a big game and we’re looking forward to being involved in it.”
Halifax recall centre James Woodburn-Hall, who missed Sunday’s Championship win at Dewsbury with a virus that has since spread through the camp, influential captain Scott Murrell and loose-forward Jacob Fairbank in doubt tonight.