Rugby League: Castleford fear central threat of Innes and Iro

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The Independent Online
CASTLEFORD, who finally know for certain that they must find a new coach for next season, must also find vastly improved form at Headingley today if they are to reverse the result of their last meeting with Leeds.

Beaten 40-12 on Boxing Day to start their decline in the league, Castleford look to have the odds stacked against them again in the quarter-finals of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup.

With Richie Blackmore and Simon Middleton missing from their back line, there must be doubts about their ability to control Leeds' centres, who did much of the damage last time. Craig Innes, the former All Black, has adapted convincingly and Kevin Iro, back from a hamstring tear, will find the big match atmosphere this afternoon that has always brought out the best in him.

There is a contrast in the situation in the two packs, as well. Castleford will be without Martin Ketteridge, who, like Blackmore, is having knee surgery, and must decide between Keith England and Dean Sampson at prop. Leeds have the luxury of Andy Goodway fit again and on the bench.

It all adds up to a challenging last tilt at the cup for Darryl Van de Velde, who took Castleford to Wembley and defeat by Wigan last year. After weeks of weighing rival offers from Australia, he has opted to become chief executive of the new Brisbane club, the Queensland Crushers, who enter the Winfield Cup in two years' time.

His assistant, John Joyner, is the obvious heir apparent, but the Castleford-based Roger Millward is on the market after long experience coaching Hull KR and a shorter stint at Halifax. Some sort of joint arrangement between the two might not be out of the question.

Millward's more recent club faces the daunting task of stopping Wigan's ever-increasing momentum towards a sixth successive Challenge Cup tomorrow. The main question at Halifax is how much difference home advantage will make to the balance of power that saw them lose 30-14 at Wigan last week.

Halifax's leading try-scorer, Greg Austin, believes it will be a major factor. 'It's a tight ground with a lot of atmosphere and it will be like a cauldron,' he said. 'The big slope will be to our advantage.'

Wigan's coach, John Monie, is familiar with the theory but unimpressed by it. 'Teams playing Wigan give everything they've got every week, home or away,' he said. 'If there are advantages to be gained from the ground, we've got the professionals to do it. In any case, our away record is probably better than at home.'

Austin says that his new coach, Malcolm Reilly, has revolutionised training and match preparation at the club. Tomorrow is a little early, however, to expect that approach to pay the dividend of a cup victory over Wigan, especially if Karl Harrison and John Fieldhouse are unable to play.

Oldham's coach, Peter Tunks, gives his Second Division side a

40-60 chance of overturning Bradford. Those odds will lengthen if he is without his props, Mark Sheals and Se'e Solomona, his scrum-half and main kicker, Steve Kerry, and the highly promising Under-21 international centre, Gary Christie.

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