Rugby Union: Rogers happy to put wind up Willows

Castleford's lanky winger crosses paths with former club Salford in rugby league's Challenge Cup tomorrow.
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IT IS part of Sod's Law of sport that you forever cross paths with past clubs in significant matches in the future. It happens tomorrow to Darren Rogers, albeit rather more rapidly than is usual.

At the end of last season, Rogers was a Salford player. This weekend, he faces his old team-mates as a member of a Castleford team trying to knock them out of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup.

Rogers was part of the Salford side narrowly and controversially beaten by Sheffield Eagles in last season's semi-final.

"We were so close to the final that just losing that match knocked the stuffing out of us. We had a hard run in Super League after that and although we played quite well, we couldn't get a win. Our season never quite recovered," he says.

The lanky winger now wants to inflict more misery on his previous team, but not because of any personal rancour.

"I didn't leave Salford on bad terms. I'm still in touch with lads like Steve Blakeley and Gary Broadbent.

"In fact, I hope they only lose three games all season - all to us and starting with the cup-tie."

Rogers spent four seasons at The Willows after signing from his first professional club, Dewsbury. At 24, he felt the time was right to make a move, but returning to his native Yorkshire - he comes originally from Wakefield - was a major factor in determining his destination.

"I'd been living in Salford in a flat and it was a bit of a case of everybody going off in their separate directions after training - the Pie-eaters off to Wigan and so on. I'd reached the stage where I wanted to be closer to my family and friends.

"There were a few clubs interested in talking to me, but when I spoke to the Castleford coach, Stuart Raper, I liked everything he had to say - especially about the players he was going to bring in and what he was trying to build here.

"There are only a handful of teams outside the big four who can make a serious bid for a top-five spot in Super League and Castleford are one of them."

Already, he has noticed the difference at Wheldon Road. "The supporters at Salford were great, but it's been a long time since they had any real success.

"The fans at Castleford expect more, because it's not long ago that this club was always known as `Classy Cas'," he says.

After a season of steady improvement last year, those supporters will be looking for a breakthrough this time - and the often underrated skills of Rogers on the wing can make a major contribution.

He is an unlikely looking rugby league player, gangling and lean - although not as lean as he once was - in his studious glasses, but Rogers' Salford years saw him mature into a potential match-winner.

"I had a bit of a sticky period there playing full-back. The attacking part of the role was okay, but I never really felt at home with the defensive side of the job and I regard myself as a winger now."

He brings a couple of major assets to that position. With his long, loping stride, he is considerably faster than he looks, both going for the line and chasing in defence, and there are few players who have profited more from the lofted kick to the wing that has become a part of many clubs' attacking armouries over the past few seasons.

Indeed, there is such a difference in height between him and his likely opponent tomorrow afternoon, Salford's newly-recruited Joey Hayes, that it would be surprising if the Cas stand-off, Danny Orr, did not launch a few kicks towards his flank during the course of the match.

Rogers, a try-scorer in that ill-fated semi-final last year, could well mark his rite of passage back over the Pennines by plucking one out of their air at Wheldon Road. That is so often the way these things work.

His links with both clubs have made him - unusually for a generally self- effacing player - the centre of attention this week.

"But I'm treating it as just another game," he says. "Its significance is that it's the game that gets us into the semi-final. But I suppose I will be trying for that little bit extra."