Things are getting serious in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup with the quarter-finals this weekend – and I can’t wait!
We’ve got four really exciting and intriguing ties and I’m expecting to see some great rugby.
Here’s how I’m reading this weekend’s fixtures…
Salford v Wakefield
We’ve got two sides here who were really unfancied at the start of the year, but one of them will now be heading to the semi-finals.
Salford were in the Million Pound Game, and Wakefield only just crept into the Super 8s last year.
But Wakefield have recruited very well this year, and both sides are enjoying a great season.
They both deserve to be where they are – both in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup and in Super League.
They’re both playing good, exciting and attacking rugby.
It’ll be a tight game but I think this is one for Wakefield. I know they’re the outsiders in the betting, but I think they can come out on top here.
I think they’ve got just enough in their arsenal to beat Salford.
Salford have lost their last two and are in a mini-slump, while Wakefield have won six of their last seven, so it’s Wakefield’s game for me.
Leeds v Featherstone
Featherstone have done fantastically well to get this far, but Leeds are going to be too much for them.
However, I don’t think this will be quite as easy as many think.
Leeds are -30 on the handicap, but I think that’s a little too harsh on Featherstone. Rhinos -18 or -22 looks better.
Featherstone are very organised, they’ve got a good defensive record and they know how to make games difficult against bigger opponents.
The Rhinos are too good, too classy and too strong but Featherstone will battle hard and make it tricky. Rhinos will win by 18 points or so, but I’m not sure they’ll bring up a 30-point winner.
And you’ve got to remember that Featherstone are part-time players. This is a great day for them, to be able to play at Headingley against the Rhinos in front of 10,000 people, so they’ll be massively up for it.
Warrington v Wigan
Both of these sides are completely shot on confidence, so this will be really interesting.
You can see that with Warrington, they aren’t keeping hold of the ball and their heads go down easily.
And with Wigan, their goal-line defence which is a lot to do with confidence and your confidence in each other, and that was terrible against Leigh last week, Shaun Wane spoke about that.
Had we talked about this game in the week after the World Club challengers in February, when Warrington beat Brisbane and Wigan beat Cronulla, then I’d be telling you that this is easily the game of the round.
But I’m not sure where this game is going to go. It could be a great game with two desperate sides who need a result.
But equally, they’re so in need of a win that it could be a really scrappy one.
I’m hoping though, and knowing that both sides have quality rugby in their DNA, that we will see a good game.
Realistically I think this is Warrington’s only chance of winning something this year. I think Wigan can still make up ground in Super League, so I fancy Warrington to just nick this one.
Hull FC v Castleford
This is the big one for me.
I’ve said all year that Castleford can win this trophy. They’re playing fantastic rugby and have done so all year – they’ve been a joy to watch.
But, away at Hull FC won’t be easy. It really won’t.
I think Hull have got the right stuff to win this – especially at home. Had this been at Castleford then I’d say they would win.
But I’ve played at Hull, it’s a cauldron, it’s not easy at all. The fans really get behind the team and when they met in April Hull managed to win with 12 men.
They’ll go into this game in great confidence now, and I believe they’ll be able to call upon a few men coming back from injury.
Also, Castleford are without Junior Moors this weekend. I think he’s the best player in the competition at coming off the bench and changing a game.
They’ve not got him and that could leave Castleford in trouble, and I really think Hull have enough about them to win this.
I know I’ve backed Castleford all the way, but I think their run could end this weekend.
It’ll be a hell of a game, it’s the tie of the round but I think Hull will do it – and it pains me to say that being a KR fan!
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing