This weekend sees the Super League sides join the remaining Championship sides in an eagerly anticipated sixth round of the Betfred Challenge Cup as sixteen hopefully embark on the road to Wembley and the 2023 Challenge Cup Final.
One second tier side is guaranteed a place in the quarter finals as York RLFC Knights were drawn to play the London Broncos in an all-Championship affair. The other remaining sides from outside Super League have a much more daunting task as Halifax host the World Club Champions St Helens, and Batley Bulldogs must travel to an in form Hull Kingston Rovers.
We take a look at the runners and riders and predict who will make up the quarter final line-up.
The first three games take place on Friday evening with the game between Halifax Panthers and St Helens being broadcast live on ViaPlay Sports.
Halifax Panthers v. St Helens
The bookies have handicapped Saints by twenty-six points and think that it will be a simple task for them to make progress as the side currently in seventh place in the Super League table take on a Halifax side in fourth spot in the Championship. The two sides last met at the semi-final stage in 2019 when Saints were easy winners and we have little reason to expect a shock of any description, despite the Panthers having the home advantage. ST HELENS to progress.
Wakefield Trinity v. Leigh Leopards
Wakefield Trinity can´t buy a win and are unlikely to fare well against a Leigh Leopards side who are confounding the critics in 2023 and come into the game seven league places ahead of their opponents on the ladder. The bookies think the Leigh will win by fourteen points, although they won the league game by 32-0 just a month ago, and we have little cause to disagree with them and can see nothing expect another crushing Trinity defeat and the LEIGH LEOPARDS into the next round.
Hull KR v. Batley Bulldogs
When Batley Bulldogs made the quarter finals they would have been hoping for a game against Championship opposition or perhaps Wakefield or Castleford, but they were drawn out to make the trip to the east coast to take on an impressive Hull KR side. You have to look back to 1995 for the last time that Batley beat Hull KR, and even further to 1965 for the last time that Batley won a Cup game against them (the last meeting between the two sides in the competition really was fifty-eight years ago). One interesting statistic is that Hull KR have never beaten Batley in a Challenge Cup tie but we think that this time it will be HULL KR who will get the win.
Two of Saturdays games are on the TV, Leeds against Wigan on the BBC and Catalans versus Warrington on ViaPlay Sports.
Leeds Rhinos v. Wigan Warriors
Probably the most difficult game to call as a result of last weeks dress rehearsal when the Rhinos came from behind, and down to twelve men, to decimate the Warriors with a stunning second half performance which coach Peet said was the most embarrassing performance of his Wigan coaching career. Wigan are six places above Leeds in the table and the bookies have made the visiting side to Headingley slight favourites with a two-point start on the coupon. It was the Leeds Rhinos who won the last cup encounter in 2020 at the semi-final and Wigan have not beaten the Rhinos in their last six encounters, and not in the cup since they beat them in the final in 2011. We think that last week will have rocket the Cup Kings and we believe that it will be the WIGAN WARRIORS who scrape through to the next round.
Catalans Dragons v. Warrington Wolves
Fourth plays top in the Super League with another mouth-watering encounter in the south of France as Daryl Powell´s side look to progress in the Cup. The bookies have predicted a narrow win for the home side, which would be their first win over the Wolves since the two sides met in that famous final in 2018. Warrington travelled to Perpignan five weeks ago and picked up the win and we are going to tip against the bookies with the WARRINGTON WOLVES the ones to make it through, but after a humdinger of a match.
Salford Red Devils v. Huddersfield Giants
The bookies fancy that the troubled Salford Red Devils will take a narrow win over a Huddersfield Giants side who are struggling to fins any consistency in a disappointing league campaign which sees them languishing in tenth spot, as opposed to Salford´s sixth. The Giants managed a ten-point winning margin away win five weeks ago, and they also beat Salford the last time that the two met in the cup way back in 2007. Salford are in a rich vein of form so we tip the SALFORD RED DEVILS to be heading into the quarter finals.
The remaining two games take place on Sunday with the Castleford Tigers against Hull FC selected by the BBC for transmission.
Castleford Tigers v. Hull FC
Hull FC seem to be getting back on the bike after a rocky period of losses, while the Castleford Tigers are still dusting themselves off and looking for the confidence to get back into the saddle, could this be the time for the Tigers to strike? The two sides last met in the opening round of Super League when FC struggled to a two-point win, but there is plenty of water under the bridge since then with FC sat in ninth and the Tigers in eleventh in the table. Castleford haven´t beaten Hull in the Challenge Cup this century, their last win coming in 1999, and we see no reason for them to break the chain now, HULL FC to make it into the next round draw.
York City Knights v. London Broncos
Last up is an all-Championship encounter between eighth placed York RLFC Knights and tenth placed London Broncos with the bookies favouring a relatively comfortable win for the home side. There has only been two points between the two sides in their last three encounters with York being victorious on all three occasions. The two sides met in the cup in both 2020 and 2021 with York winning both games, the 2020 game also by two points. A betting man would probably back York to win by two but we suspect that the margin might be a little greater with YORK RLFC KNIGHTS making it into the last eight.
We think that the sides in the hat for the quarter finals will be; St Helens, Leigh Leopards, Hull KR, Wigan Warriors, Warrington Wolves, Salford Red Devils, Hull FC and York RLFC Knights. Then, of course, it will be down to the luck of the draw.