Rugby League: Hughes fit to meet his mentor

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BUT FOR Alex Murphy, Eric Hughes would not be a coach. Murphy's Huddersfield could today make him wish that he hadn't bothered.

A tricky opening tie in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup is the last thing that Hughes and his St Helens side need after last weekend, when they became the first league victims of the season for the First Division's bottom club, Leigh, on Sunday.

Two or three of his players will pay the price for that display today and Hughes also has experienced hands like Shane Cooper, Anthony Sullivan and Tommy Martyn ready to return. 'The fans are impatient and I don't blame them,' says Hughes. 'The Championship is long gone, but we are capable of a good cup run.'

Hughes plans to continue his sweeping revamp of Saints' training methods; his first discovery on moving up to first team coach from being in charge of the youngsters in the Academy team last month was that his squad was not as fit as it needed to be.

It's a subject close to Hughes's heart. A lean greyhound of a player, he was renowned for his fitness. When he went to Australia for a brief spell, he was one of the few Englishmen of his era who could match them in that area.

Hughes spent 18 years at Widnes, sharing in all their successes of the Seventies before becoming their coach. In 1986, he resigned in disgust at the sale of Joe Lydon to Wigan and Murphy persuaded him to go to St Helens as a player. After a period as player-coach at Rochdale Hornets, Murphy took him on to Saints' coaching staff.

'I owe him a lot,' says Hughes. 'And I think I know him pretty well. He has shown at Huddersfield that he can still inspire players and get results.' Huddersfield won the now defunct Third Division in 1991-2, finished third in the Second Division last season and this time are in contention for promotion. 'It's a very tricky tie, even though Alex is playing down their chances,' says Hughes.

TODAY'S FIXTURES: Silk Cut Challenge Cup fourth round (3.0 unless stated) Barrow v Bradford (3.15); Batley v Keighley (3.15); Bramley v Widnes; Carlisle v Workington (2.0); Castleford v Salford (3.30); Doncaster v Dewsbury; Highfield v Whitehaven; Huddersfield v St Helens (3.30); Hull Kingston Rovers v Ryedale-York (3.15); Hunslet v Oldham (3.30); London Crusaders v Featherstone Rovers (at Hendon FC); Rochdale v Leeds; Sheffield Eagles v Leigh (3.15); Swinton v Hull; Wigan v Wakefield.