After a discontented winter, there is an appetite for more wholesome fare. Holding the Cup as a pre-season event will always stick in the traditionalist craw, but at least it gets a prime showcase. That is more true than ever this year, with terrestrial television showing two live ties in each round. The first, at Headingley this afternoon, was an obvious choice. Meetings between Leeds and Castleford are always passionate.
The Leeds coach, Graham Murray, has sprung one surprise by naming the converted second-rower, Darren Fleary, in the front row, with the Great Britain prop, Barrie McDermott, fit again but on the bench.
Fleary is one of a clutch of Keighley players who moved across to Leeds last season. Most have now returned, but Fleary has impressed sufficiently to be kept on. According to the man he is keeping out, he is well up to the job.
Marc Glanville makes his competitive debut in a Leeds side captained for the first time by Iestyn Harris, but Daryl Powell is ruled out. Castleford, who drew at Headingley in a new year friendly, have their own new faces. Barrie-Jon Mather and Gael Tallec start, with Francis Maloney and Mike Smith among the subs.
The other Super League clubs meeting head-to-head also have a recent draw to their credit, suggesting Huddersfield's visit to Halifax could be an equally close affair.
Halifax, still in the familiar setting of Thrum Hall, have their three new Australians - Damien Gibson, Des Clark and Gavin Clinch - in their line-up, along with the veteran Kiwi, Gary Mercer, while Danny Arnold, a Wembley winner with St Helens last year, plays for Huddersfield.
It is Saints' progress the cameras will be tracking as they take on Featherstone. Their coach, Shaun McRae, admits to thinking long and hard about his scrum- half selection before giving the job to Bobbie Goulding ahead of Shaun Long.
Newcomers Paul Atcheson, Chris Smith, Brett Goldspink and Paul Sculthorpe all play. At Wakefield, in a tie arranged for 4 pm to avoid a clash with Featherstone's 1.45, Jason Roach, Mike Eager, Adam Doyle, Danny Farrar, Danny Nutley and Brendon Tuuta all make debuts for Warrington.Reuse content