In what was drawn out as a home game for Championship table toppers Toronto Wolfpack, the Canadian side travelled to the Halliwell-Jones to take on the Warrington Wolves. The Wolves are on a brilliant winning run which has seen them up to third in the table but their near namesakes from over the pond have only lost one game all season.
This was a big test of the ‘Super League readiness’ of the Wolfpack with both the pro- and anti- expansionists paying close attention to the outcome, and more importantly the performance.
Could Toronto follow Leigh in performing a shocking entry into the quarter finals or would the Wolves send their opponents packing back to Canada with their tail between their legs?
It was a short meeting at the BBC when they made the decision to pick the tie of the round as their Saturday game in the sixth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. Castleford Tigers, the great pretenders, against a St Helens side who are making 2018 their own in the way that the Tigers had in 2017.
The two sides met in the season opener in early February when Saints demolished the Tigers by 46-6, a difficult lesson for last seasons Grand Finalists and one that they have tried to learn from as they have progresses to fifth in the table.
Both sides had some injuries but Castleford were suffering the most with the most telling being the loss of talisman Luke Gale and whether Paul McShane could step into his shoes at stand off.
One of the most intrigueing ties of the sixth round draw threw together near neighbours Leigh Centurions and the Salford Red Devils for a game at the Leigh Sports Village as one of the top sides in the Championship went head to head with a side still looking for Super League consistency.
Eight league places separated the two sides but Salford came into the game in the full knowledge that there was plenty of Super League experience in the Centurions side and that the home crowd would be baying for the blood of their rivals from ten miles down the A580.
The bookies fancied an away win but not by much and the cameras of SKY were there to witness the unfolding excitement with Leigh hoping to extend their nine match winning run.
For the last two years the Challenge Cup Trophy has been adorned with the Black & White ribbons of Hull FC and they began their defence tonight with a potential ‘banana skin’ of an away trip to Featherstone Rovers to take on one of the side who are heading for the middle eights.
It’s almost three years since Hull FC last lost a Challenge Cup tie, a game against eventual winners Leeds Rhinos, on the 26th June 2015.
Featherstone Rovers were looking to capitalise on the absence of Airlie Birds stars such as Marc Sneyd, Jordan Abdull and Albert Kelly and spring a surprise on the Super League side in front of the SKY TV cameras. Their side was full of players with Super League experience including Luke Briscoe who was aiming to equal Leeds 1930’s phenomenon Eric Harris’s record of scoring a try in seventeen consecutive games.
It is the fifth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup as the eight sides who have survived the earlier rounds are joined by the top eight from last season’s Super League with a quarter final place up for grabs.
Four of the games will be televised starting on Thursday night with a home tie for Featherstone Rovers against cup holders Hull FC on SKY, with three ties taking place on Friday night, two on Saturday afternoon and two on Sunday.
The lowest ranked team in the competition Whitehaven have a magical trip to play the Catalans Dragons and will hope that they can cause one of the sensations of the last decade.
There were plenty of points scored in round thirteen of the Betfred Championship with three out of the six encounters delivering more than sixty points.
Saturday saw the top two sides in action as second placed Toulouse hosted third place Featherstone Rovers and the Toronto Wolfpack had their first game of the season on home soil with Swinton Lions the visitors.
On Sunday there was another top of the table clash as London Broncos hosted the Leigh Centurions while Barrow were at home to the Batley Bulldogs, Rochdale Hornets were at Dewsbury Rams, and Sheffield Eagles hosted Halifax.
It was the game of the weekend as fourth placed Castleford Tigers travelled to sixth placed Hull FC with a place in the top four up for grabs. A Tigers win would give them a three point cushion over fifth placed Leeds Rhinos but a victory for the Airlie Birds by more than two points would lift them ahead of their opponents.
FC needed a lift after last weekend’s loss in the south of France and they had re-signing Joe Westerman in their seventeen, and Marc Sneyd back on duty but were without the injured Albert Kelly. The Tigers now know that they will be without the services of Luke Gale for a number on months and also were without Jake Webster and Adam Milner. Paul McShane switched the scrum half with Adam Milner named at hooker as Liam Watts returned to the KCOM for the first time since switching clubs.
The Warrington Wolves brought a seven game winning run to Headingley to take on a Leeds Rhinos side who have struggled to one win in their last three outings. The Champions have struggled so far this season against a fair number of injuries and Coach McDermott has not been able to pick his first choice seventeen so far this season.
The Wolves are sitting pretty in third and a win over the Rhinos would put them five points clear of their opponents, who currently reside in fifth. A Leeds win would see them into fourth, maintaining their push on a top four finish.
Brett Ferres swapped his bench with Mark Parcell while Josh Walters and Nathaniel Peteru came in for Delaney and Oledzki on the bench. The Wolves brought Matt Cooper into their side after missing the last couple of games.
Neither the pundits, the bookies, or the fans gave the Catalans Dragons a ‘snowball in hell’s’ chance of upsetting the form book and taking the points from St Helens in tonights game at the Totally Wicked Stadium. The Saints demolished the Red Devils last week and despite the Dragons getting themselves a victory last week the expectation was that Saints would dispatch them with ease.
Saints were without 2018 sensation Ben Barba who was out injured, and injury which saw Jonny Lomax switch to full back from stand off where he was replaced by Theo Fages. James Roby was back in the side with Matty Smith moving to the bench where he was joined by Luke Douglas in the side for the suspended Matthew Lees.
There were four changes to the Catalans Dragon side which beat Hull FC last weekend in France with Vincent Duport, Julien Bosquet and Louis Anderson all making the starting line-up and with Alrix Da Costa on the bench.
The Betfred Super League hits round fourteen with six games spread over four days while the Championship fixtures are spread between Saturday and Sunday. In Championship One there is one game on Saturday when Doncaster Travel to play the London Skolars but the remaining fixtures are all on Sunday afternoon.
The two TV games on SKY see top placed St Helens face the Catalans Dragons who lifted themselves off bottom spot last week with their hard fought win over Hull FC. On Friday ‘May the Fourth be with you’ on Star Wars day as the Leeds Rhinos, in fifth, take on third placed Warrington Wolves at an ever changing Headingley Stadium.