Rugby League: Wigan welcome back Dermott

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Non-league hopefuls prepare to strike out on Challenge Cup trail - Frustrated Saints stumble under pressure and fail to regain composure

THE weekend offers a mixture of the familiar and the innovative, with Wigan's battle to retain their First Division title played out amid the opening stages of a new-look Challenge Cup, writes Dave Hadfield.

The radical restructuring of the game's longest-running competition sees 64 non-league clubs in first-round action today and tomorrow and plenty of resonant names are involved.

John Woods, perhaps the best player of his generation never to appear at Wembley, is player-coach for Leigh Miners against a Hull- based side whose name would surely have echoed his sentiments if he had ever approached the twin towers in earnest - Eureka.

Neil Hague and David Watkinson, Cup-winners with Leeds and Hull KR, are both now coaches. Hague's East Leeds meet Kells while Watkinson's Heworth face Wigan St Judes. Len Casey, a winner with Hull in 1980, is now mentor at Beverley, who play Cambridge City Eagles, one of four teams from the south of England in the first round.

Conference League leaders Hemel Hempstead have arguably the tie of the round against last season's National Cup finalists, Hensingham, from Cumbria.

The former Rochdale and Leigh professional, Sid Miller, is 51 and his appearance at scrum-half for Littleborough against Redhill is generally believed to make him the oldest man to play in the Challenge Cup.

In the Stones Bitter Championship tomorrow, Castleford, with Jason Flowers continuing to deputise for Graham Steadman, and Bradford, with Steve McGowan in for the injured Darrall Shelford, meet in the key match of the day, but neither is likely to make up ground on the two sides above them in the table.

The leaders, Warrington, at home to Featherstone, and the Champions, Wigan, at home to Hull KR, should both win. Warrington retain the side that won in style at Sheffield last week, while Wigan have the Great Britain hooker, Martin Dermott, back in their squad.