Long can add to Leeds' defensive woe

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The Independent Online

Volcanic ash and public perceptions permitting, the Carnegie Challenge Cup needs to re-establish its importance this weekend. Like knock-out competitions in other sports, the cup has struggled to maintain its place in the sun.

Increasingly, it has become more difficult to raise a crowd for a death-or-glory tie for the game's oldest trophy than for a routine match in the heavily-promoted Super League.

Hence the proliferation of free and cheap ticket deals for this weekend's fourth round, aimed at ensuring that there should be some atmosphere for some intriguing ties. Almost 17,000 watched Leeds and Hull play in the league at Headingley last Sunday. Today's rematch at the KC Stadium has to be, at least in the short term, far more important.

Hull lost at Leeds, but will be encouraged by the 30 points they scored and the relative ease with which they broke the Rhinos' defensive line. With a number of front-line players expected to return today – including, possibly, Sean Long – they might well fancy their chances.

The other all-Super League tie is at The Stoop, where Wakefield's prospects against Harlequins will not be helped by the departure this week of Shane Tronc. Trinity have agreed to release the Australian prop from his two-year contract because his homesick wife cannot settle in Yorkshire. They are looking for a replacement, but will go into this tie without a forward who, whatever his off-field troubles, has been impressive this season. Quins finally have Luke Dorn ready to play his first game of the season.

The tie with the most resonance is Sheffield Eagles' first cup meeting with Wigan since beating them in Wembley's biggest upset in 1998. The Eagles are now an unpretentious Co-operative Championship side and nobody expects a repeat today; mind you, nobody outside the club anticipated what happened 12 years ago.

The current Super League leaders make minimal changes for their trip to Bramall Lane, with Paul Deacon and Stuart Fielden recalled to the squad.

Leigh have got around the lack of flights by taking a gruelling overland journey to Limoux in time to play today, as have Salford for tomorrow's tie at the Catalan Dragons.

The biggest match-up in tomorrow's programme is at Huddersfield, where Hull KR are the visitors. The tie marks the 250th appearance for the Giants of the formidable Eorl Crabtree. Elsewhere, a number of other Super League clubs face potential stumbling blocks, not least troubled Castleford, at home to last year's Championship winners, Barrow. Cas recall Joe Westerman and Rangi Chase after their club suspension for disciplinary reasons last week.

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