CHRIS Hamilton believes the Rugby League Challenge Cup still has a magic all of its own for everyone connected with the sport —- fans, players, coaches, sponsors and club directors.
It’s appeal, he said, will be encapsulated by Sunday’s tie between Oldham and Kells at Bower Fold (3pm) and by the other 11 ties on this fourth-round weekend, four of which involve other amateur giant-killers from round three.
There was a time when lower-league clubs could make a financial killing out of a cup run, but those days have gone, says Oldham’s chairman.
“The way the competition is now structured and seeded, with the top eight Super League clubs not entering until the sixth round, removes the realistic opportunity for clubs like Oldham, and many others, to make serious money on a cup run,” he said.
“But there’s a lot more to the Challenge Cup than money. It has an appeal all of its own. We saw that in the last round when five amateur clubs caused upsets against semi-pro opponents and we’ll see it at first hand on Sunday when Kells come down from Cumbria dreaming of causing another shock.
“Championship clubs and those League One clubs who survived the last round will be dreaming of Wembley, regardless of how unattainable those dreams might be. That’s the magic of the Challenge Cup.
“Players look forward to being tested against teams they wouldn’t normally meet in the leagues and they can get their time in the limelight on the back of a major upset.
“Whatever happens in our game, the Kells lads will never forget their appearance in round four of the Challenge Cup and that will apply to the other four amateur teams as well.
“It’s different, it’s exciting and it appeals to all who take an interest in rugby league, regardless of their level of involvement.”
Kells, from Whitehaven, have won three promotions in a row to go from National Conference division three to premier division in the shortest possible time, but they suffered defeat to Siddal last Saturday in their first game at the highest level.
Jason Boults, who played nearly 200 games for Roughyeds in the front-row, is now a firm favourite at Siddal, who are also in the cup this weekend, facing Rochdale at Spotland.
Peter Smith (49), the Kells coach, was at Derwent Park last Sunday to do work for BBC Radio Cumbria but also to take a look at Oldham.
He said: “I thought they should have won. And if there had been more support for Grimshaw when he made that telling break near the end they would have won.”
His Kells side is packed with BARLA internationals and ex-professionals, headed by former Whitehaven veterans Paul Culnean (38) and Carl Sice (35), who has given Oldham heaps of problems over the years, playing at hooker for Whitehaven and Workington.
Sice plays at loose-forward for Kells behind a strong second-row comprising of Culnean and BARLA Great Britain man Scott Lofthouse.
Stand-off Tyrone Dalton, another amateur international, was named NCL division one player of the year in 2015.
Smith, assistant coach at Whitehaven for many years, worked alongside men of the calibre of Paul Cullen, Kevin Tamati and Steve McCormack at the Recreation Ground.
He has twice won NCL divisional coach-of-the-year awards during Kells’s relentless rise through the divisions.
“We play with a smile on our faces,” he said. “We are in it for enjoyment so we have devised ways of training and playing which the lads genuinely enjoy. If you enjoy something you want more of it, and that philosophy is at the core of everything we do.
“It will be a great day out for our club and we hope to do the amateur game proud.”