Rugby League: Inspiring Orr gives Castleford a boost

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The Independent Online
YOU COULD wait a lot of years for two better balanced Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-finals than this weekend's, with both matches likely to be determined by who plays and who does not.

Castleford were boosted yesterday by Danny Orr being passed fit after a knee strain, but the London Broncos, who face them at Headingley today, already knew their own bad news. They have no prop forwards, just a couple of converted second-rowers and a relative novice dragged back from rugby union to sit on the bench.

The nature of the modern game is such that this is not the disaster it would once have been. Scrummaging is an irrelevance and what Steele Retchless and Shane Millard lack in size they make up for in energy and mobility. The presence of Matt Salter among the substitutes at least gives them a big front-rower to come on and absorb some punishment.

It will still be an early test of Dan Stains' coaching ability, but one that his former protege, Aaron Raper, believes that he will pass with flying colours.

"When I first played for Cronulla I asked Dan if I could train with him, because he was the most dedicated player at the club," recalls the Castleford hooker. "He was so thorough - and he'll be the same as a coach."

Raper, Orr, Dean Sampson and Francis Maloney have all been named in the side after injury scares, but Lee Harland is out with an Achilles problem, allowing Ian Tonks into the starting line-up and Andy Lynch on to the bench.

Only Sampson survives from the Castleford side that lost in the final to Wigan seven years ago, but London have unrivalled Cup expertise in two members of the winning side that day, Shaun Edwards and the rejuvenated Martin Offiah.

Those with short memories for what Sheffield did to Wigan last year might assume that Cas and London are playing for the privilege of losing at Wembley. That is a dangerous assumption, although both Leeds and Bradford, who should fill the McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield tomorrow, have the look of potential Cup-winners.

Bradford beat Leeds in the 1996 and 1997 semi-finals at the same venue, but history will have little bearing this time. For one thing, Leeds are far more formidable opponents now, although they must hope that their injured players - Brad Godden, Richie Blackmore and Anthony Farrell - come through fitness tests.

Bradford will re-unite the Paul brothers now that Robbie has recovered from a slight knock, and if they click anything could happen.

Without Robbie at Hull last week, the Bulls lacked the penetration that destroyed Warrington in the last round of the Cup. In Leeds, they will meet a defence far more remorseless than either of those opponents and, now that Adrian Morley is back in the pack, better equipped with strike power.

Although semi-finals in any competition can often prove disappointing, this has all the makings of a classic, with controlled ferocity spiced by brilliant attacking rugby. They will resist the idea, but the winners will feel they have one hand on the Cup.

Britain's leading referees, Stuart Cummings and Russell Smith, take charge today and tomorrow and could find their abilities tested. Their director, Greg McCallum, is shortly to visit Australia to look into the possibility of introducing full-time referees here. The pace and passion of this weekend's action could confirm that the idea has merit.