Cup classic reminds us what a great game it is

FROM the moment the draw was made, there was a strange air of inevitability about Featherstone’s Challenge Cup victory against Super League neighbours Castleford last weekend.

Yes, there is a sizeable gap between the top of the Championship and the lower reaches of the top flight.

But Daryl Powell’s Rovers always looked to have the right mix of footballing brains and sheer physicality to trouble the Tigers, even allowing for their recent marginal upturn in form.

And they duly delivered a stunningly good performance to send their arch rivals tumbling out of the competition at the fourth round stage.

Simply, it was rugby league at its best. Their reward, if you can call having to work out how to contain the near peerless Sam Tomkins a reward, is a fifth round meeting with Wigan.

Now, I don’t think anyone will be tipping a home win that day, but Sky - who now share the rights to the competition with the BBC - were quick enough to add it to their schedule.

I’m not clear who gets first pick of the fixtures, but the Beeb must surely have been left kicking themselves after going for the safe option of last weekend’s all-Super League affair between Widnes and St Helens, which, despite the closeness of the final score after the Vikings produced a late surge, always seemed firmly within Saints’ grasp, rather than being a little more adventurous with their scheduling.

Featherstone’s success certainly brought a little magic back to the competition.

And judging by the attendances around the grounds - only around 4,000 at Post Office Road and less than 900 at the Shay for an admittedly rather low-key meeting with South Wales Scorpions - that is desperately needed.

I HAVE been waiting since November for the email that finally landed in the inbox on Tuesday afternoon confirming what has been catchily dubbed the Anglo-French Challenge.

In a nutshell, the top four Championship teams from last year will take on the top four French Federation teams on the first weekend in June, with two games in England and two in France.

Fax appear to have drawn the short - or is that long - straw, with a trip across the channel, perhaps back to Toulouse, on the cards for Karl Harrison’s side.

The idea was first mooted at a media briefing at Brighouse last autumn, at the same time the vision for the brave new world of Championship One expansion was rolled out.

Why it has taken so long to nail down is anyone’s guess, but at least it’s here now and should provide a pleasing enough diversion from the daily grind of the Championship.

The Press release was predictably enthusiastic, which is fair enough.

But I thought it was pushing the boundaries to label it “the strongest semi-professional rugby league competition in Europe”.

Technically correct, perhaps. But is there another one?