Rugby League: Widnes dedicated to hard graft: Wigan's wobbles give Rovers hope of Challenge Cup upset

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The Independent Online
WIDNES' season rests on their ability this afternoon to make progress in the competition that has always been their priority, despite a crop of injuries and the barrier of the form team in the country.

Last season's finalists would have chosen any Silk Cup Challenge Cup draw rather than having to go to Castleford today. 'But we are very, very determined,' Phil Larder, the Widnes coach, said. 'We've been to Wembley, we know what it's like, we liked it and we want to go back.

'Our goals were established very early in the season. We knew that, after having to sell players, we were not going to win the league. Perhaps more than we should, we have had Wembley as our priority.'

The departure of Jonathan

Davies, Andy Currier and Richie Eyres last summer left Widnes without three of their proven match-winners. 'What we have lost is flair. Everything we want this season we have to graft for,' Larder said. 'No coach in his right mind wanted to draw Casteleford away, but that grafting quality could be exactly what is needed.'

Larder has too many players hovering some way short of full fitness to even hazard a guess at his team. John Devereux, Adrian Hadley and Paul Moriarty all missed last week's defeat at Oldham, along with Paul Hulme and David Smith.

Injuries in that match to Tim Russell, David Ruane and David Myers, along with the fact that Darren Wright and Emosi Koloto are feeling their way back after long-term absences, complicate the picture further.

The contrast with Castleford's happy position could not be more marked. Lee Crooks and Ian Smales were rested against Leigh last week but will return today to give them the same line-up which won the Regal Trophy and which has played, virtually unchanged, since.

At Central Park tomorrow, it is the Cup holders, Wigan, who have the team problems. Phil Clarke is definitely out and there are doubts about Kelvin Skerrett, Andy Platt and Jason Robinson. Their opponents, Featherstone Rovers, are unchanged and travel in hope after beating Wigan earlier this season and drawing further encouragement from a few other wobbles since.

'Some of the results that Wigan have had this season mean that you go there thinking that, if you play to your best, you might just beat them,' Steve Martin, their coach, said. 'At one time, you knew that even if you played your best you probably wouldn't win.'

Eyres is fit for Leeds' tie at home to Bradford Northern and replaces Mike O'Neill in an otherwise unchanged side.

St Helens, with Tea Ropati and possibly David Lyon fit to start, should account for Doncaster. The Second Division side have done splendidly to get this far, but selling their best player, Carl Hall, to Bradford while still in the Cup hardly sends out positive signals.