Craig Farrell’s column - Rovers hit the cup trail

Wigan Warriors v North Wales Crusaders:  Sam Tomkins races away from the Crusaders defence to complete a double hat-trick of tries
Wigan Warriors v North Wales Crusaders: Sam Tomkins races away from the Crusaders defence to complete a double hat-trick of tries

The Challenge Cup has always held a magical place among the hearts of rugby league fans around the world.

It has produced many memory-searing moments such as Martin Offiah rounding Alan Tait in the final of 1994, for one of the competition’s greatest ever tries; Sheffield Eagles’ historic 1998 victory over a seemingly impenetrable Wigan side, and Don Fox’s missed goal-kick in the ‘water splash’ final of 1968 to Eddie Waring’s lament of “the poor lad, the poor lad.”

Although several pundits, myself included, suggested that Featherstone Rovers could cause another Challenge Cup upset last weekend, at home to Castleford Tigers, few, again myself included, actually believed they would, and write themselves into Challenge Cup folklore.

But that’s exactly what they did under the guidance of their young British coaching team of Daryl Powell and Ryan Sheridan, overcoming Stobart Super League outfit and near neighbours, Castleford Tigers.

Powell said: “It’s a local derby and Castleford will find it tough to swallow but for us it was a pretty special day.”

Challenge Cup upsets were seemingly a thing of the past, a rarity of the modern age of full-time professionalism versus the part-time status of those in the Championship and below.

But Fev, arguably the strongest team outside of Super League for the past few seasons, bucked that trend on Sunday, and deservedly so, restoring the magic of the Challenge Cup in the process, and earning themselves a lucrative fifth round home tie versus the current Carnegie Challenge Cup holders, Wigan Warriors.

Fev’s heroics are not jut a shot in the arm for the people of Featherstone, they are much more than that, they are a signal that in the ever-evolving full-time professional realm of Super League, that the hard work and dedication of the part-time professional can still prevail.

And while few would give Fev any hope of overturning Wigan in round five, a match that will be shown live on Sky, there may just be one final shock in this year’s Carnegie Challenge Cup as Batley Bulldogs face London Broncos at Mount Pleasant on April 29.

Batley, who have improved dramatically in recent seasons, and recently won the National Cup competition, will provide a stern test for the Broncos, who have faltered somewhat this season.

Mount Pleasant can be anything but that at times and I fancy my old club for something of a shock victory in the next round.

While the Challenge Cup produced a little bit of magic for Featherstone, please spare a thought for North Wales Crusaders after their 98-4 drubbing by a Sam Tomkin-inspired Wigan.

This result showed that despite the odd anomaly, there is still a huge gulf between the full-time professional ranks and those of the part-timers.

And finally, on Saturday afternoon while playing for Scarborough RUFC I was greeted by a familiar face, although one very much out of place, that of Jamie Leahy, the rugby league referee.

Jamie has refereed me in the past at academy, reserve and Championship level, and even refereed Bradford Bulls and Doncaster in the Challenge Cup on Sunday.

However, it would appear that he is now trying his hand at officiating the 15-a-side code, and with some success too.

I have always found the communication skills of rugby league referees to be second to none and Mr Leahy is no exception.

This is his first real season of officiating rugby union but his experience of officiating top flight rugby league was clear to see and his performance was certainly one of the better ones on display at Silver Royd this season, I wish him continued success in his rugby union endeavours.