WHILE all of Super League descends on Newcastle today for the best part of 36 hours, arguably one of the most intriguing games of the weekend will take place at Post Office Road tonight.
Granted, the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup fixture there between Featherstone Rovers and Hull FC descended into an ill-tempered, ill-disciplined farce towards the end of last Thursday’s sixth-round tie.
But in amongst all that, Championship side Featherstone played some enterprising football, rallying from 30-4 down after barely half-an-hour to eventually succumb 38-20 against Super League opposition.
It is that side of their game –the invention and creativity – that neutrals will be hoping to see when they host Leigh Centurions this evening.
It is a fascinating contest, though, predominantly given the remarkable strides their opponents – relegated from Super League last term – have made of late.
Although they lost three of their opening four games, Leigh have won 10 on the bounce since Kieron Purtill took over in the wake of Neil Jukes’s resignation.
There is every suggestion they are building enough momentum to challenge for an immediate return to the top-flight via the Qualifiers but Featherstone, of course, are intent on that goal themselves.
They currently sit third, two places above Leigh and, in the likes of former Castleford Tigers half-back Tom Holmes, already have plenty of Super League talent.
Holmes held his own against Challenge Cup holders Hull and, alongside former Leigh half-back Martin Ridyard, will look to weave more of his magic this evening.
“We were fairly pleased with our performance against Hull,” said Holmes.
“We gave it a good go. We let ourselves down during the first half but finished strongly and are looking to build on that going into Saturday against Leigh.
“Leigh are in great form and have turned themselves around since the start of the season.
“Both teams have improved but Leigh are on a long winning run and will be doing everything possible to extend it.”
After Misi Taulapapa and Gareth Hock both picked up bans following incidents in that heated game against Hull, they both miss tonight’s game as does the injured Mitch Clark.
Anthony Thackeray is also out of the 19-man squad as coach John Duffy brings back Leeds Rhinos trio Harry Newman, Jack Ormondroyd and Josh Walters on dual-registration terms.
Holmes added: “It is going to be a very different type of game compared to the last one we played at their place (a 38-30 Featherstone win).
“We will need to go up a gear in order to get the two points.
“It is tight at the top and everyone is pushing hard for a place in the Qualifiers.
“We want to put on a good show for the fans and kick on going into what will be a tough game at the Summer Bash.”
At the other end of the spectrum, however, Dewsbury Rams coach Neil Kelly needs “personal pride” to rise to the surface with his side tomorrow.
They head to Halifax still stuck in a wretched sequence of 10 successive defeats.
The last of those was a dismal 58-32 loss against Barrow Raiders which Kelly deemed unacceptable. He has some players back for the trip to The Shay including captain Paul Sykes and winger Rob Worrincy but is missing Gareth Moore and young centre Cameron Scott has been recalled by Hull FC.
Kelly said: “We know the squad is not big enough to keep performances up. By that, I mean if you’re not playing well the next guy comes in. We haven’t got those sorts of numbers.
“However, I think the manner of that defeat against Barrow means personal pride should come into your performance.
“That’s what I’m hoping to see at Fax who we know are a potent team and well-coached.”
Sheffield Eagles head to London Broncos with Mark Aston asking for a similar reaction – they lost 66-14 at home to the same opponents last week.
Batley Bulldogs, meanwhile, host Rochdale Hornets looking to complete a quickfire double over their rivals having returned to form with an impressive 48-10 victory against them on Sunday.