Rugby League: Rovers looking to test the best

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AFTER a week of legal and political bickering, it is with relief this weekend that the game turns to the relatively simple business of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup.

The first round proper has thrown up a number of attractive ties, none better than the visit of the First Division leaders, St Helens, to the best side in the second, Featherstone Rovers.

The Featherstone coach, Steve Martin, is well aware of the rumours linking him with Wigan and, if Mike McClennan sticks to his intention of leaving at the end of the season, St Helens.

Martin joined Featherstone on a one-season contract after being pushed out by North Sydney; Rovers have indicated that they would like him to stay on, but Martin is keeping his options open. 'I'd be silly not to look at every option, both over here and in Australia,' he said.

Martin is an obvious candidate for a bigger job and it will do his reputation no harm if his present side can put up a good performance against Saints, who beat them 25-8 at Post Office Road in the Regal Trophy in December.

Martin has no doubt that tomorrow's opponents are the best side in the country at the moment. 'They have match-winning players in every position, and they have the sort of depth that allows them to replace Jarrod McCracken, now that he has gone back to Australia, with a player of the calibre of Paul Loughlin,' he said.

Featherstone have a centre of their own, Paul Newlove, who can discomfort the best when he is in the right mood. They will, however, be without Gary Rose in their pack. He spent two nights in hospital with infection in a head wound after last week's game at London Crusaders.

Elsewhere, the draw has produced a knot of well-balanced ties between First Division sides, including today's televised match at Warrington, where Castleford will be without their New Zealand Test threequarter, Richie Blackmore, after an exploratory knee operation this week.

Neil Kenyon, who had a transfer request turned down this week, returns on the wing for Warrington, in place of the injured Chris Rudd.

Wakefield, rocked by last week's heavy home defeat by Leigh, are at Salford, while Leigh go to Sheffield.

Wigan's defence of the Cup continues at the Third Division leaders Dewsbury, who can be expected to provide brave resistance on a badly worn Mount Pleasant pitch, but little real danger. Leeds, fancied by many to continue the salvage operation on their season by going all the way to Wembley, should take a comfortable first step against Barrow.