THE very nature of rugby league means that cup shocks are few and far between and each success by an underdog is a little gem that has to be treasured.
Hence the former mining community of Featherstone will be savouring every last minute of their superb fourth round Challenge Cup success over the ‘big boys’ from Castleford.
Rovers’ 23-16 success – from what highlights I have seen – looked thoroughly deserved and, while the Tigers are enduring a stuttering start to the new Super League campaign, the Championship side reportedly produced a top drawer performance and were suitably rewarded by being drawn against holders Wigan Warriors in the fifth round at their cosy Post Office Road home.
While I can’t claim to be a Featherstone fan – I leave that to my mum who was born and brought up in the Pontefract area – my first job in reporting was with the Pontefract and Castleford Express starting in 1983.
In and amongst the drama of the miners strike – you had to watch the early morning news just to plot your route to the office – I cut my journalistic teeth following the fortunes of Featherstone and Castleford.
And that first year involved following said Challenge Cup trophy around the area as the proud winners Rovers attended a string of fund-raisers at a variety of pubs and working men’s clubs with said silverware in hand.
But it serves to show what the introduction of full-time professionalism has done to rugby league.
While that wonderful afternoon at Wembley was heralded as a shock, Featherstone’s 14-12 win over a star-studded Hull side was not the total long shot that it would now probably be seen as.
The Airlie Birds were quite an exotic bunch for the time with New Zealanders Gary Kemble, Dane O’Hara and James Leuluai alongside the mercurial David Topliss as the star turns.