Keighley gamble pays off for Powell: Rugby League

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One evening on Great Britain's tour to New Zealand last autumn, a team-mate asked Daryl Powell whether he fancied a stroll to the casino across the road from their hotel.

"Not me," said Powell. "I'm not a gambler." Why then, he had to be asked, had he taken the job as player-coach of the Keighley Cougars? This, after all, was the season when the Keighley phenomenon was scheduled to blow up in everybody's face. Financial distress would bring the Cougars to their knees and Powell, untried as a coach, would have the thankless task of trying to hold a disintegrating club together. Some of those closest to him advised him to give the job the widest of berths.

For once in his life, Powell took the risk and, so far, appears to be doing rather nicely. The club is still in the hands of the administrators and has been forced to sell two of its more valuable players, but the team that Powell puts on the field continues to exceed expectations.

Two weeks ago, Keighley became the only side from outside the Super League to knock a top-flight team out of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup when they beat Halifax 21-8. This afternoon, they have a more difficult task when the Cup-holders, St Helens, come to Cougar Park in the quarter-finals.

One thing Saints will not do is to underestimate any side led by this most underestimated of players. "They have got big-match players, especially Daryl Powell, and unless we are 100 per cent we will find ourselves under a lot of pressure," said their coach, Shaun McRae.

Powell will be able to field a full-strength team and is optimistic about replacing the players sold to Sheffield. At loose forward he has a youngster of real potential - Robert Roberts, known as "Two Bobs".

Even without the suspended Bobbie Goulding and, probably, the injured Derek McVey, Saints should be too strong. The same goes for last season's beaten finalists, the Bradford Bulls, who are at Oldham, and Leeds who visit the other first division survivors, Featherstone Rovers.