Dave Craven: Challenge Cup could offer lifeline to Leeds Rhinos and Huddersfield Giants this season

Leeds Rhinos' Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield with the Challenge Cup trophy at Wembley last year.
Leeds Rhinos' Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield with the Challenge Cup trophy at Wembley last year.
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AS the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup gets into full swing this weekend, the prestigious competition could suddenly become more enviable than normal for some teams.

It seems absurd to place Leeds Rhinos in that bracket given they chased it down amid countless heartbreaks before finally getting to grips with the trophy in 2014.

Yet they, and Huddersfield Giants, might well be targeting this year as the one where it becomes their main priority. Indeed, they may not have any other option.

Given the strange occurrences in Super League this term, with such bizarre goings-on as not only Leeds and Huddersfield being slumped near the foot of the table but Catalans winning five away games on the bounce, too, mindsets may well change.

Even if Leeds do mount a resurgence, as they are so well known for, it is highly unlikely they will be in that top four challenging for the Grand Final yet again at the end.

Likewise, Giants, so often bridesmaids at the Super League wedding, already look doomed, too.

Of course, there is still plenty of time for sides to turn their form around – the season is approaching but not yet reached the halfway mark – and do not be surprised if both aforementioned clubs do rally.

However, realistically, the best either can hope for is a top-eight finish and, even then, there is a likelihood in the Super 8s they would soon be cut adrift of the semi-final spots like Hull FC were last season and facing a series of dead rubbers.

In their current state, for fans of both clubs, that might well be seen as success given the other prospect would be the dreaded Qualifiers.

Huddersfield supporters probably already expect that.

But that makes the Challenge Cup all the more appealing to them.

Traditionally in the summer era, until Leeds reminded everyone it is possible last season, winning Super League and the famous knockout competition together is nigh on impossible.

Take away one of those and there is the possibility of really concentrating efforts on the other and so, for Huddersfield, Leeds and sides such as Hull KR, that can be become the sole object of their desire.

Let’s not forget, Super League’s top eight clubs only have to win three games to reach Wembley and, as Rovers and Castleford proved in the last two campaigns, the current form allows lesser lights to have a real stab at it.

Equally so, there will be Championship sides hoping to follow Leigh Centurions’ lead from 12 months ago and venturing into the latter stages.

But that, too, brings up further questions; bearing in mind how Leigh’s season tailed off so spectacularly in the Qualifiers back then – having impressed so much in the Challenge Cup – would the higher-end second-tier teams like the Centurions feel they, too, must make a sacrifice to fully concentrate on their own primary goal of earning promotion?

The Challenge Cup suddenly might not be as inviting for them, opening the door further for a Huddersfield or Hull KR to capitalise. If the Giants or Rhinos do fall as far as those dreaded Middle Eights, even for clubs of such standing, they themselves might start getting a little jittery.

Somewhere like Post Office Road could just as suddenly become as huge and intimidating a venue as Wembley itself.