When the draw was made for the Challenge Cup 5th round it threw up this tie between last season’s relegated side and their Super League successors.
Both coaches, Neil Jukes (Leigh) and Tim Sheens (Rovers) would have probably both preferred to be playing lesser opposition especially after the hectic Easter period, which saw Leigh lose both their games against Salford and Hull FC and the Robins overcome Featherstone before going down for the first time this season to Toulouse, albeit with a much changed squad from the one that travels to the Leigh Sports Village tomorrow. (kick off 3pm)
Both coaches will obviously want the win tomorrow but will also be casting an eye further down the track when this fixture could well be replicated towards to the latter end of the season, with Leigh looking likely to be one of the bottom four in Super League and the Robins about as sure to top the Championship come the split as any rugby league fan will be of seeing a dodgy refereeing decision this weekend.
As the Robins welcome back the majority of the senior stars tomorrow and with Leigh bringing back some of their experience, both sides will be able to gauge what is going to be needed not just in this game to take a step nearer to Wembley but to achieve what is needed to be at the top table of British Rugby League in 2018.
The Robins welcome back into the match day fold a host of Super League quality players, none more so then captain Shaun Lunt, Jamie Ellis who’s kicking may be a pivotal factor in the game, Mr Consistent, Maurice Blair and the exciting Adam Quinlan. One notable absentee for Sheens though is the impressive James Donaldson (pictured), arguably KR’s player of the year so far, who suffered yet another season ending ACL injury.
Sheens has subsequently hinted that back row/loose forward recruitment may have to be looked at sooner rather than later in order to add to his squad before the business end of the season. Donaldson, undoubtedly will be a big loss for the Robins but his absence gives a youngster like George Lawler chance to impress and stake a claim for a regular place in the side, starting at Leigh.
The Robins exciting back line will be hoping that their forwards can more then match the big Leigh pack who welcome back the ‘enforcer’ and most peoples’s public enemy No.1, Gareth Hock.
Hock and French hooker Eloi Pelissier are back in the Leigh squad after missing Monday’s defeat to Hull FC. These two alongside Glenn Stewart, Harrison Hansen, Atela Vea and others will keep the Robins pack busy all day but if they can keep with the big Leigh pack, then the quality of Jordan Abdull, Andrew Heffernan and speedster Adam Quinlan can exploit the weaknesses in the Leigh defence.
In the grand scheme of things in 2017, tomorrow’s game won’t be near the top of the list but it will give Tim Sheens an early indication of what is going to be needed when the league splits at the end of July. On current form these sides will be meeting again this season when the result will have a much bigger effect on the respective clubs standing.