Wilkin puts Rovers roots behind him in search of Cup glory

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The Independent Online

If Jon Wilkin was not playing for St Helens in their Powergen Challenge Cup semi-final today he would be at Huddersfield watching the club he has supported since childhood.

Wilkin first watched Hull KR when he was three, his father works for the club, his girlfriend's family are fanatical supporters and he was at Blackpool two weeks ago, cheering them on in the Northern Rail Cup final.

"I try to separate my career and my passion and this is the first time it has been an issue," said Wilkin, who faces his old club for the first time since leaving them as an 18-year-old four seasons ago. "Obviously for them it's a big, big occasion. It's certainly the biggest game of their recent history.

"I'm ecstatic for them but this weekend is all about St Helens." Saints have something to prove after last year, when they were unexpectedly outplayed by Rovers' neighbours, Hull, at the same stage and the same venue.

That left a sour taste which Wilkin and his team-mates will be keen to obliterate when they face the other Hull club this afternoon. "We took Hull for granted and Hull did a job on us," is the way Saints' hooker, Keiron Cunningham, puts it.

Apart from his Humberside connections, the versatile Wilkin has become an important player for Saints, especially when their captain, Paul Sculthorpe, is missing. During the captain's latest injury, he has slotted into his role without the team missing a beat.

Outweighing the absence of Sculthorpe is the return of Sean Long, after missing the past two matches with a leg injury, and the availability of Jamie Lyon, who escaped without a suspension this week after being sent off for a late challenge on Leeds' Rob Burrow.

Rovers are without their stand-off, Scott Murrell, who twisted an ankle in training on Thursday. He will be out for a month and the player they have signed on loan from Harlequins as his short-term replacement, Pat Weisner, is cup-tied.

Murrell is a loss, but their coach, Justin Morgan, is relieved that his half-back partner, James Webster, has established his fitness after missing the Northern Rail final. "We've got the little general back and he will lead us around the park," Morgan said.

Despite defeat at Blackpool that day, Rovers have proved themselves a truly exceptional National League side but they face a formidable task to become the first to reach a Challenge Cup final.

Huddersfield are almost as long odds against Leeds tomorrow, although they have been consistently competitive in Super League this season.

It is Leeds who have the injury worry, however, just as they did with Keith Senior before last year's Cup final defeat by Leeds, this time over Danny McGuire. The stand-off will be given until an hour before kick-off to show that he has got over shin splints.

The Giants' only complication is that Kevin Brown, on loan from Wigan, is cup-tied. Jon Sharp's likely solution will be to move Stephen Wild from the pack to centre. He is the only Huddersfield player, apart from the cup specialist, Robbie Paul, to have played in a final, but there are others hungry for the experience and capable of pushing the Rhinos all the way.

Tevita Latu's late-season stint with Wakefield is in doubt after he was told that he must return to Australia to start a community service order next Wednesday.

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