RUGBY LEAGUE : Widnes face uphill task against favoured Wigan

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The Independent Online
Widnes have bitten off the biggest task in the game by drawing Wigan in the quarter-finals of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup.

Beaten by Wigan at Wembley two years ago, Widnes have continued to lose their most valuable players, and are still precariously placed in the First Division, although they have recovered some of their old expertise in the cup, in which they have reached eight finals in the last 20 years.

However Wigan, the winners of the trophy for the last seven seasons, will be strong favourites to make further progress on 11 March. No doubt they would have preferred a home tie, but a trip to Widnes does not, on the face of it, look like the hurdle that will end their phenomenal unbeaten run, which now stretches to 39 ties.

There were the inevitable sighs of relief at the draw when Wigan and the only other genuine big guns left in the competition, Leeds, avoided each other in the quarter-finals.

Leeds, second in the First Division and the only threat to Wigan's championship title, will be grateful that their tie against Workington Town is at home. The Cumbrians are a vastly improved side of late, but home advantage should be enough for Leeds.

The other two ties ensure that there will be a couple of unfashionable names in this year's semi-finals. Oldham, the last side to beat Wigan in the cup but never able to negotiate their way to Wembley, will certainly fancy their chances at home to Huddersfield.

The Yorkshire side, however, are unbeaten in 1995 and have shown remarkable form in their victories over Halifax and the Second Division leaders, Keighley, in the last two rounds.

Like Huddersfield, Whitehaven are also bidding to become the first side from the Second Division since York in 1984 to reach the semi-finals.

Featherstone, another of the First Division's struggling sides who have found some of their missing confidence in the Challenge Cup, will not relish the long journey to the Cumbrian coast to meet opponents who have also hit top form since the turn of the year.

Wigan have decided to go ahead with their First Division match against Workington this Sunday, despite having their entire first-choice front row away on international duty with Wales.

Kelvin Skerrett, Martin Hall and Neil Cowie, as well as the full-back, Paul Atcheson, will be in Carcassonne for the European Championship decider against France. Workington will also be without their Welsh players, Kevin Ellis and Rowland Phillips.

Widnes have been told that they must play their match at Featherstone the same day, because Stephen Barrow, the Great Britain Academy forward, does not count as the fourth absent first-teamer who would entitle them to a postponement.

Scott Wilson, the former Canterbury-Bankstown full-back, who stands to be the last Australian player to take a full-time contract in this country before the new international transfer ban takes effect, will make his debut at home to Leeds tomorrow night.

SILK CUT CHALLENGE CUP Quarter-final draw: Widnes v Wigan; Oldham v Huddersfield; Leeds v Workington Town; Whitehaven v Featherstone Rovers. Ties to be played 11-12 March.