ROMIDA Sykes Cup holders Skelmanthorpe power into tomorrow’s semi-final as red hot favourites against Cawthorne, despite having to concede home advantage.

Skippered by James Dollive (elder brother Adam has already led Skelmanthorpe to Sykes Cup glory over Honley in 2007), the Lidgett Lane side may only be mid-table in the Drakes Premiership, but they should have far too much firepower for the Barnsley side, who are in their debut Drakes League season (1.00).

Although Skelmanthorpe have had some ‘iffy’ League performances this year, they have been very solid in their defence of the trophy they lifted last August when defeating Delph & Dobcross at Honley.

They opened with an eight-wicket win over Conference club Thongsbridge, before Kris Whittaker produced a match-winning knock of 97 to sink Premiership rivals Elland, who will host the final at Hullen Edge on Sunday, August 7.

And last month two sparkling centuries from Louis Aspeling and Paul Davis proved far too good for Championship side Clayton West.

After losing players of the calibre of Indian Test opener Wasim Jaffer, who created an unbelievable League record high of 2,083 runs last season, and Qaiser Rashid, both of whom scored tons in last year’s final win, plus the loss of strike bowler Craig Glover back to Shepley and Sarfraz Ahmed to Shelley, there were fears that Skelmanthorpe may really struggle this season.

But Australian Paul Davis (elder brother of Greg who played with Clayton last season) has proved a revelation with 30 wickets so far, to go alongside a couple of centuries.

And with Aspeling and Haroon Rashid both revelling in the runs, backed up brilliantly by Whittaker and the skipper himself, it would be something of a surprise if Skelmanthorpe don’t match the 300-plus total they put up at Clayton West.

Davis has also led the bowling attack along with Pete Lombard with 20-odd wickets, James Crossland and Dom Storey, and Cawthorne will need to play out of their skins to get the better of that quartet.

However, Skelmanthorpe will no doubt take a salutary lesson from Cawthorne’s quarter-final opponents Marsden, who also made a first-ever visit to Dark Lane fully expecting to be a ‘shoe-in’ for the semis and were subsequently scuttled for 70!

In truth, it was Cawthorne’s first real test, having drawn former Central League stablemates Cumberworth and Almondbury Wesleyans in the previous two rounds, and then only just edging Cumberworth by one-wicket off the final delivery, thanks to an unbeaten 34 from bowler Jake Rodgers.

Chris Walmsley is Cawthorne’s captain, and started the season brightly with three big half-centuries is his first five knocks, but has since hit a sticky patch and has been relying on some of his younger, less experienced batsmen to move them up the Cedar Court Conference table.

Opener Ben Simpson has had back-to-back 50s and steered the Barnsley side to 194-9 against Marsden in the last round, while George Parks, Chris Matthewman and Lewis Skelly have all produced telling innings of late.

The name Skelly is well known to Drakes League players, Louis being the son of Dale, who coincidentally was in the Shepley side the last time they reached the Sykes Cup final. Shepley, of course, await tomorrow’s winners in the showpiece.

On the bowling front, Rodgers has made a big improvement after finishing wicketless in Cawthorne’s opening two games, and is now pushing on to 30 in League and Cup as is the skipper Walmsley, who is a genuine all-rounder, while another pace man is Paul Tasker, another former Shepley player.

Cawthorne have been at home in all three previous rounds, and with seven home wins under their belts so far they certainly know how to play on their own ground, and definitely won’t be rocking up just to play the role of ‘cannon fodder.’

That said, it’s hard to see beyond Skelmanthorpe making their second final appearance in succession and their fourth in six years.

It is also Paddock Shield semi-finals day tomorrow, with Scholes entertaining Kirkburton at Chapelgate and last year’s beaten finalists Golcar taking on reigning Premiership champions Slaithwaite at Swallow Lane (both 1.00).