WHEN the draw is made for the fifth round of the 2016 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup at 6.30pm on Tuesday evening, there will be more than a few people with an eye on where ball number eight comes out.
That is because it is the one which has been allocated to Lock Lane, the last amateur team standing in this season’s competition.
A 30-16 victory over fellow amateurs Featherstone Lions in last Saturday’s fourth round encounter at Big Fellas Stadium ensured the Castleford outfit succeeded where Pilkington Recs, Kells and Siddal all fell and reached the stage of the tournament where Super League sides enter.
“We’ve played every round away from home so far so it would be great to get a home draw,” said Lock Lane head coach Martin Rowse.
“Widnes would be the dream draw. They’re playing well, they’re top of Super League and there would be no bigger test for this group of players.”
Logic dictates that whichever opponent Rowse’s side draw, this will be their last game in the 2016 Challenge Cup. Indeed, so remote are their chances that competition sponsor Ladbrokes have them as 2,500/1 outsiders to go on and lift the trophy at Wembley in August.
Nevertheless, there are few amateur teams who can match the pedigree of Lock Lane in rugby league’s most prestigious knock-out competition, having ran Huddersfield close before eventually going down 14-10 at Fartown in the early 1970s.
They also hold a unique record of being the only amateur team to reach the third round in eight consecutive seasons from 1995 to 2002.
Lock Lane’s presence at the fifth round stage goes beyond their own personal glory though – they are now representing the rest of what The RFL refers to as the community game in a year which the Challenge Cup has brought it into focus.
The amateurs-versus-professionals derby matches in Rochdale and York during round three allowed those teams a spotlight which is rarely afforded to them, and Lock Lane’s run shines a further light on what is going on outside of the professional game.
The Challenge Cup still remains one of the best shop windows for rugby league on a national level and stories such as this should be celebrated, even if it might soon be coming to an end.
Vikings on the charge: There has arguably not been a derby between Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings that is as hotly-anticipated as the upcoming Good Friday clash at the Halliwell Jones Stadium for quite some time.
Last Thursday’s Super League showdown between Wigan Warriors and the Vikings had many members of the media recalling days gone by when the two sides were regularly contenders for top honours.
The match itself did certainly not disappoint either, with Denis Betts’ side coming back from eight points down to triumph 18-12 against the side where he made his name as a player.
Last Friday then saw Warrington maintain their unbeaten start to the season with a Kurt Gidley and Chris Sandow-inspired 56-12 victory at home to Castleford Tigers, keeping them equal on points with the early leaders.
These are good times to be a rugby league fan in Cheshire – whichever side of the divide you happen to be on. Stand by for some Easter fireworks on Friday.
Thursday night attendance watch: The crowd of 11,773 for the thrilling clash between Wigan and Widnes was 1,421 down on the 13,194 who were at the DW Stadium for the corresponding fixture last year which was played on a Friday night.
All aboard the merry-go-round: Just under a month ago, Chris Chester was relieved of his position as Hull Kingston Rovers head coach. Three weeks later, he was back in work after being unveiled as Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ head coach.
In the intervening period, former Wakefield head coach James Webster was named as Chester’s interim replacement at Craven Park. Funny how things sometimes work out, isn’t it?
Rovers finally claimed their first win of the season at the seventh time of asking, surprisingly mounting a comeback from 30-6 down at half time to beat Salford Red Devils 44-30 in Webster’s first home game in charge.
Meanwhile, Chester watched from the stand as Wakefield’s struggles continued with a 22-4 defeat away to Hull FC.
Much of the focus was on the Black and Whites after their players had now-infamously kept Lee Radford and the rest of the coaching staff out of the dressing room after the previous week’s defeat, but whether this is a full resurgence or a one-off remains to be seen.
It is players too who are on the merry-go-round, with the Ryan Brierley saga finally coming to an end after joining Huddersfield Giants from Kingston Press Championship outfit Leigh Centurions.
How the Giants must have wished the prolific point-scorer were available to play against the Catalans Dragons on Sunday, having blown a 20-12 half-time lead to go down 46-26 to the French outfit.
And in case you missed it, defending champions Leeds Rhinos held off St Helens to secure a 30-18 victory. Do not doubt for one minute Brian McDermott’s men will again be among the contenders this year.
Marwan Koukash Twitter watch: Salford’s most-prolific tweeter teased the possibility of a joint-event featuring both himself and controversial Leigh owner Derek Beaumont.
— Marwan Koukash (@drmarwanK) March 14, 2016
500 not out for Aston: It was close, but Sheffield Eagles ensured Mark Aston had something to celebrate on his 500th game in charge of the team with a 32-28 victory over Swinton Lions in the Challenge Cup.
Last time out in the Championship, Bradford Bulls were denied a win against Batley Bulldogs after a last-gasp penalty from Pat Walker earned the home side a draw.
This week, Bradford were denied in the Challenge Cup by Batley’s heavy woollen district rivals Dewsbury Rams thanks to a late drop goal from Paul Sykes.
Once again, the value of having a player who can slot over the one-pointer came to the fore.
Stat of the week: Toulouse Olympique have outscored their opponents 222-48 in their four Kingston Press League One and Challenge Cup games so far this season.
Strangely, the team who have run the Frenchmen closest are amateurs Wath Brown, who were beaten 32-14 in their third-round Cup tie at the end of February.
Amateur score of the week: Manchester Rangers 14 Bury Broncos 35, North West Men’s League Division Two. An impressive crowd of 358 at the Manchester Regional Arena saw Rangers’ 12-month unbeaten home record ended by the Broncos in the opening game of the season.
Amazingly, Bury were only 7-6 up at the break before storming away in the final 20 minutes to record a comfortable win.
Considering themselves the spiritual successor to the Belle Vue Rangers – who won the 1902 Northern Union Championship and two Challenge Cups under their original guise of Broughton – professional team which folded 1955, Manchester have progressed rapidly since their formation in 2012 and have the long-term aim of reaching the pro ranks.
Bury have been around since 2007 and became the first amateur team to be based in the borough since the demise of the old Prestwich side in the mid-1990s.
Comments? Questions? Complaints? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘The Armchair Pundit’, tweet @gamethatgotaway or leave a comment below.