Oldham relishing cup showdown

Oldham RLFC will leave no stone unturned in their attempts to reach the second round of the Betfred Challenge Cup in their home first-round clash with League 1 side Barrow Raiders, a fascinating tie to be played over the weekend of March 20 and 21.

Club insiders, among them chairman and management, coaching staff and players, are adamant that, for now, they will look no further than round one even though the second round has also been drawn and has paired the winners with an away tie at Swinton Lions or Newcastle Thunder.

However, each of the 16 clubs that go to the Betfred Challenge Cup starting gate in little more than five weeks' time will garner added motivation from the knowledge that progress to round three on the weekend of April 11 will automatically see them through also to the semi-finals of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup in June and thus place them only 80 minutes away from going to Wembley in July.

"It's exciting, but not for that," said club chairman Chris Hamilton. "That's far too far down the line to be even thinking of it. It's good to be drawn at home in the first round, obviously, but I'm sure every club that was in the hat for rounds one and two will be thinking no further than round one.

"What makes our tie with Barrow exciting is this: By the time it's played we will have gone exactly one year and two weeks without a game and it's great for everyone, especially the coaches and players, to focus on a particular game instead of wondering when we were ever going to get back playing again, as we have been doing for months.

"In that respect all clubs are in a similar position and Barrow, Swinton and Newcastle will be thinking exactly as we are.

"Training is now back in full swing and the lads will feel it's more like old times by getting stuck into contact training knowing they are getting ready for a specific match --- Barrow at home in the Cup as early as next month. It will be a tough game, make no bones about that, and whoever goes through will have another big challenge against Swinton or Newcastle."

Roughyeds beat Newcastle at the Vestacare Stadium in the 2019 Promotion Final, but in a close game it was nip and tuck all the way until Roughyeds came from behind late on and prevailed 18-14 thanks to the winning try by young on-loan prop Jimmy Beckett in a game of non-stop thrills and spills.

Club skipper Gareth Owen remembers it well but, like his chairman, all his thoughts just now are on the visit of Barrow in five weeks.

"Anything else can wait," he said. "Barrow will be determined to put down a marker by beating Championship opposition. They are a good side. We've got to make home advantage count and it will be nice to get them down here for a change so early in the season.

"For the last umpteen years we've gone up there for a pre-season friendly in January, nearly always playing in sub-zero temperatures or icy rain and on a soft pitch with clinging mud in places. It will be good to get them down here this time, albeit a couple of months later than usual and in an important cup-tie rather than a warm-up match.

"Any one of four, Oldham, Barrow, Swinton or Thunder could get through to round three and also through to the semi-final of the 1895 Cup, but we'll all be thinking the same: it has to be 'one step at a time'.

"We obviously want to get as far as we can in the Challenge Cup, but first and foremost we've got to get on the first rung of the ladder -- and that means concentrating all our efforts right now on Barrow.

"I can tell fans that we're back in full contact training now and we've been smashing into each other and really enjoying it. It was a shock to the system at first, but now we're going flat out again it's great to be doing what comes naturally and to know that we've got an important cup-tie coming up only a matter of weeks away.

"Everything is going really well. We've had it exceedingly tough since we returned to full contact, but we're loving it in the mud and the rain and the snow and we really feel we can see some light at the end of what has been a very long tunnel."

First round (weekend of March 20,21): London Broncos v Keighley Cougars; Whitehaven v Dewsbury Rams; OLDHAM v Barrow Raiders; West Wales Raiders v Widnes Vikings; Swinton Lions v Newcastle Thunder; Halifax Panthers v Batley Bulldogs; Sheffield Eagles v York City Knights; Featherstone Rovers v Bradford Bulls.

Second round (weekend of March 27, 28): Swinton Lions or Newcastle Thunder v OLDHAM or Barrow Raiders; Featherstone Rovers or Bradford Bulls v Halifax Panthers or Batley Bulldogs; London Broncos or Keighley Cougars v Sheffield Eagles or York City Knights; West Wales Raiders or Widnes Vikings v Whitehaven or Dewsbury Rams.

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