For such a chummily named competition, the Buddies National League Cup has won few friends so far, although that could begin to change today. It would be too dismissive to say that the new trophy, sponsored by a soft- drinks firm, has fallen flat, but it is only now, with the start of the knock-out phase, that interest is starting to fizz.
The Cup was introduced to answer the need for another competition, one in which Northern Ford Premiership clubs could have a money-spinning run. Having voted for it, however, many clubs found it an unwanted interruption to their league programme when it kicked off last month.
Oldham's John Harbin is one coach who believes that clubs were too quick to write it off. "We've treated it seriously from the start," he says. "Some have said that they don't regard it as important, but they're usually the clubs that have just lost a game." Having qualified for the quarter-finals, Oldham face the NFP leaders, Huddersfield, in an all-ticket clash. Harbin says he "got sick of the sight" of Huddersfield during his battles with them as Wakefield's coach in Super League last season and was fully expecting to draw them in this competition. Oldham's best ally could be the tight confines of their current home ground.
Hull KR also have a difficult job at Leigh, who had the boost this week of their record-breaking try-scorer, Neil Turley, deciding to stay with them rather than joining Warrington in Super League.
"It shows that we aren't in the business of producing good players for other clubs," says his coach, Paul Terzis. Turley is gambling on getting into Super League and if that doesn't happen this year, the offers will come in again – and this time they might be impossible to resist.
Dale Cardoza, released by Warrington, is in Doncaster's squad at home to Rochdale in perhaps the toughest quarter-final to predict, while both Whitehaven and Barrow have injuries going into their Cumbrian derby. The wearer of Whitehaven's No 5 shirt should be particularly wary: the last two incumbents have both lasted less than a minute before being struck down.
There is a tidy £10,000 prize for the winners of the Cup, and clubs had also better get used to its presence in the calendar; contrary to popular belief, it is not envisaged as a one-season wonder.
Part of the rationale is that when the NFP split into National Leagues I and II next year, the Cup will give smaller clubs more games against sides from the higher division. And those smaller clubs, the Rugby League expect, could include a revived York, plus both a reborn Bramley and the North London Skolars, even if that means an uneven number in National League II.Reuse content