I’VE bought a Lottery ticket for tonight’s draw. The fact that I have a ticket gives the game away – my numbers haven’t come up in the past and I don’t really expect they will. The spin off is that I have the right to dream, for a few moments I can plan how to spend my millions – then reality kicks in.
Rugby League’s Challenge Cup is a bit like that – time to dream of a trip to Wembley. For the Eagles the competition kicks off for this weekend with the cold shower reality of a game against South Leeds amateurs Oulton Raiders in the third round.
Back in 1998 the Eagles were about as likely to lift the Cup as Lord Lucan was to be found stacking shelves in Tesco. Perhaps that’s why the Eagles players went for it and not only got to the final but beat odds on favourites Wigan. Look at the picture above of captain Paul Broadbent and Mark Aston and others holding the Cup and you’ll know what that meant.
This time around the bookies will offer you 150-1 on the Eagles winning. Beating Oulton will give the Eagles a ticket to the fourth round when the Super League teams come in – draw one of those and it’s probably end of the road for the Eagles. That doesn’t take away from the excitement of the Challenge Cup.
The Eagles coach is making the right noises ahead of the game against Oulton.
Mark Aston has been quick to say ‘we’ll respect the opposition by the team we’ll put out’.
He won’t take chances. 18 months after Wembley a rebuilding Eagles was bundled out of the Cup by amateurs Thornhill Trojans 16-14 in front of their home fans – those memories never go away.
Too often coaches say they are ‘resting’ players for games against lower league opposition. ‘Resting’ is a great example of coach speak. Give too many a day off and it can lead to an uncomfortable afternoon.
Lower league teams play the pre-match game with statements that this is ‘their final’ and they know they have no chance. So if they expect a hammering, why disappoint them? Put out the best team and pile up the points - you’re doing them a favour.
The Challenge Cup is one of the game’s greatest competitions but it’s in danger of being devalued. It’s becoming predictable. A poor relation to the Super League Grand Final.
BBC TV will show live games from the fourth round but you get the feeling they would like to kick the contract into touch.
Compared with the coverage of the kick and clap lads’ BBC’s presentation has all the excitement of an undertakers’ disco night.
Sheffield Eagles showed in 1998 that the Challenge Cup is a jewel in the crown of rugby league. It needs another outsider to polish up that crown.
When you think about it 150-1 is better odds than the Lottery.