The Betfred Challenge Cup returns this weekend, and Lewis Smith, from Betfred’s The Last Tackle, has given us his prediction for Sunday’s games

The first round of the Betfred Challenge Cup is always an exciting time, and this year it comes with added feel-good factor.

Whilst we are of course missing the involvement of the community clubs, and a number of Betfred League One sides who help make this competition so special, it is impossible not to be pleased for the 16 clubs are taking to the field this weekend. All them playing their first competitive match in over a year.

In many ways, it’s easy to get carried away by the symbolic significance of these games, after such a turbulent 12 months that have thrown up so many challenges for the game of rugby league, you’d forgiven for thinking that results will just be a footnote come Sunday night.

Make no mistake however, there are some very tasty cup ties on the menu, and the moment that whistle blows all dewy-eyed sentiment about being back on the pitch will be long out the window, so lets take a look at Sunday’s action.


West Wales Raiders vs Widnes Vikings – Sunday, 12:45 – Live on the BBC Red Button & IPlayer

Wow, what a cup tie this is!

These early rounds of the cup are always great, not because you get any clear idea of who is going to be lifting the trophy at Wembley in July, but because of the stories that they through up, and this one has an absolute boat-load.

It’s fair to say that West Wales have been in a development phase for the last few years, the perennial League One whipping boys picked up just one win in two seasons. That could be set to change in 2021.

I’ve long said that Rangi Chase is the most the skilful footballer I’ve seen play the domestic game on these shores, so there’s a real sense of intrigue as he lines up in the halves. If we get just one moment of magic from the former England international, it will be a cup tie worth watching.

Chase will wear 7, there’s an even bigger story wearing 6. Wales’ rugby union icon Gavin Henson is set to make his rugby league debut on Sunday.

There’s no doubt the former British and Irish Lion will have people reaching for the red button across the country, but he could also find himself with a big target on his back. It’s going to interesting to see how he goes.

Widnes have been quietly building on what they put together for the doomed 2020 season, and a spine of Danny Craven, Matty Smith and Logan Tomkins is as good as any in the Betfred Championship.

Prediction: These are exciting times for West Wales, I certainly don’t think they’ll be getting flogged every week in Betfred League One, but Widnes will have far too much for them on Sunday. Vikings by 30.


Featherstone Rovers vs Bradford Bulls – Sunday, 15:00 – BBC Red Button/IPlayer

The second half of the BBC Red Button double header is arguably the tie of the round as Bradford make the trip to Featherstone Rovers.

Fans will be sorely missed at all games this weekend of course, but it’s hard not to think about the atmosphere that might have been at a packed out Millennium Stadium (Post Office Road) for this Yorkshire derby.

Rovers may still feel slightly aggrieved to be playing in this round of the Challenge Cup, feeling that they had a strong case to win the Betfred Super League place awarded to Leigh, but there can be no doubt they’ve got a squad in place capable of earning promotion organically this time around.

There’s well over 1000 Super League appearances share amongst their squad between the likes of Craig Kopczak, Brett Ferres and Dale Ferguson, but if I was in charge of the Bradford Bulls video preview (I am available on a freelance basis, if any coaches are reading), I’d be putting a big circle around Kris Welham.

The former Salford centre has one of the deadliest fends in the game, and requires plenty attention in defence, if he gets the ball in his hands in good field position, he’s a difficult man to stop.

How Bradford go this season could be dependant on the performances of Danny Brough, but they’ve got strike outwide of their own. Matty Dawson-Jones is as dangerous as any winger in the Betfred Championship, and young Brandon Pickersgill at fullback is a player who Featherstone will need to keep one eye on at all times.

Prediction: This should be a fantastic game of rugby league football. I’m backing Featherstone but not by much at all. I won’t be embarrassed if I get this result the wrong way round. Rovers by 4


Swinton Lions vs Newcastle Thunder – Sunday, 17:30 – Live on the OurLeague app (PPV)

The first weekend of the Betfred Challenge Cup is rounded off at Heywood Road, with Betfred Championship new boys Newcastle Thunder making the trip west to take on the Stuart Littler’s Swinton side.

I’ve actually got this down as one of the closest ties of the round, and definitely one of the most intriguing, as we’re set to learn a lot about both sides on Sunday night.

Swinton had a really strong 2019 by their standards, finishing 9th, the big question of course will be if they can pick up where they left off after a year on the sidelines, and continue to make progress.

New signing Martyn Ridyard adds valuable experience into the halves, whilst Lions fans will watch on with interest to how Geromino Doyle performs after joining from Auckland based club Otahuhu Leopards.

Newcastle have made no secret of their ambitions to establish themselves as a Super League club, and the first stage of that was reached when they were promoted into the Betfred Championship for 2020.

They’ve put together a strong looking squad for this campaign as well – the duo of Jake Shorrocks and Josh Woods is a really exciting halfback partnership, and Ukama Ta’ai will add some real physicality in the pack. Come Sunday night, we should know a bit more about what to expect from the Thunder this year.

Prediction: Really tough to separate this sides. I’m going to back Newcastle, but I think it will be close. Thunder by 8


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