Rugby League: Sampson set to take lead role in Cup

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The Independent Online
YOU HAVE to go back to 1983 for the last time that no side from within the old boundaries of Lancashire appeared in the Challenge Cup semi-finals. It lies somewhere between possible and probable that there will be none this year either.

Salford, having done well to beat holders Sheffield and a revitalised Huddersfield in previous rounds, will beg to differ at Castleford today, but they have suffered a major blow with the loss of the creative Australian forward Darren Brown with a broken thumb.

An unchanged Castleford, on the other hand, have Dean Sampson cleared to play despite being sent off against Wakefield last week. That is good news for them and also for a camera crew which is turning Sampson into a film star, following his every move for a documentary on the club. Castleford could yet give them some memorable footage in this competition.

Warrington have already looked a vastly improved side in Cup and Super League victories over Halifax, a fact recognised by Matthew Elliott, the coach of tomorrow's opponents, Bradford: "They will be coming here full of confidence, on the back of a couple of victories over a high quality team."

But Warrington could be without their in-form full-back, Lee Penny - another thumb injury victim - and Bradford have the Paul brothers, Henry and Robbie, starting to spark off each other and, apart from a fitness test on Steve McNamara, a fully fit squad - a luxury they never enjoyed last year.

In 1983, Widnes would have been Lancashire's best hope in the Cup. They are arguably on their way back up after the decline of the Nineties and they now have the ground their outstanding teams of the past deserved, but it is hard to imagine them detaining the remorseless Leeds side for long.

Widnes have Jason Critchley Cup-tied, Gareth Adams injured and Chris Percival suspended, but their influential stand-off Paul Mansson is cleared to play, while Leeds have doubts about Richie Blackmore, Marcus St Hilaire, Marc Glanville and Adrian Morley. Anthony Farrell is definitely out and David Wrench becomes the latest of their outstanding Academy side to be called up.

Kevin Tamati was a cornerstone of Widnes packs of the early Eighties but, as the coach of Whitehaven, will be wishing that the Cup had been kinder to him this time. The London Broncos would not have relished a trip to West Cumbria and a home draw would have given Haven a real chance.

At The Stoop, and even without the suspended Peter Gill, who is replaced by Robbie Simpson, London will surely reach the semi-finals for the second year running. This time, the League, with all due respect to their opponents, should be already making plans to stage their semi in the Midlands; sadly, there appears to be no intention of doing any such thing, which smacks of another missed opportunity.