RUGBY LEAGUE : Hammond leads the Widnes charge

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Sheffield Eagles 7

Widnes 19

It is too early to talk of a return to the days when Widnes were the most feared of Cup campaigners. Indeed, those days may never return to a club which, for the foreseeable future, will have to watch its spending and rein in its aspirations.

But of the sides left in this year's Silk Cut Challenge Cup, and with the obvious exception of Wigan and Leeds, they are as well equipped as anyone to make a mark on the competition.

Their victory at Sheffield Eagles, coming on the back of two league wins to ease their relegation fears, was more decisive than it sounds, Sheffield's only try coming in injury time, long after their fate was sealed. Before that, Widnes had shown a near total command, exploiting the Eagles' defensive frailties in the first half and then displaying much more determination themselves when they were the side under pressure in the second.

Karl Hammond, perhaps the brightest of their new breed of homespun talents, was their outstanding performer, even though his afternoon began and ended badly.

His kick-off straight into touch put Sheffield on the attack from the start, with the result that Carl Briggs dropped a goal to put them ahead. That slender lead was soon undermined by some slack and unreliable work for the rest of the half.

Adrian Hadley was left free on his wing after five minutes, although Hammond still had to find him with an excellent long range pass to set up Widnes' first try. Sheffield briefly threatened to bounce back before subsiding completely, Briggs missing the simplest of penalties and Lee Jackson finding himself without support when he made a promising break.

The rest of the half was all Widnes. Hammond broke through Paul Broadbent's tackle to exchange passes with David Hulme and score, and before half- time the Hulme brothers linked up to send Peter Smith in for another try which exposed the poverty of the Eagles' tackling.

Three goals from Hadley put Widnes firmly in control, although they had to survive long periods of pressure after the interval. With their captain and usual inspiration, Daryl Powell, right out of sorts, however, there was rarely much direction or focus in Sheffield's attack and Widnes' solid defensive effort turned them back time after time.

On a rare foray up field, Hammond put over a drop goal, but then, while he was in the sin-bin, Paul Carr went over for the long delayed and by now irrelevant Sheffield try just after the 80-minute mark.

Sides will not be quaking the way they once did at the prospect of drawing Widnes this evening but in an ill-assorted last eight they may have more say in this year's Challenge Cup than their league form has ever suggested.

Sheffield Eagles: Lucchese; Senior, Gamson (Carr, 69), Price Stott; Briggs, Sheridan; P Broadbent, Jackson, Glancy (Young, 48), Carr (Hughes, 47), Turner, Powell.

Widnes: G Broadbent; P Smith, Devereux, Wright (Singleton, 52),Hadley; Hammond, D Hulme; Ireland, McCurrie, Hansen (Makin, 20), Collier, Myler, P Hulme.

Referee: R Connelly (Wigan).