PLAYING AT Headingley Carnegie could be a double-edged sword for National Conference Division One outfit Milford Marlins.
Marlins will face Barrow Raiders, of the Kingstone Press Championship, at Leeds Rhinos’ home base tomorrow (2pm).
Most amateur clubs do not have a ground suitable for hosting semi-professional opposition, so have to either switch the tie to their opponents’ stadium or find an acceptable local venue.
“The players are certainly looking forward to it,” said David Stephenson, who is Marlins’ joint-coach, alongside Charlie Bray.
“We made the decision once the draw was made that we wanted to play at Headingley. We might have made a bit more money by taking it up to Barrow, but we wanted to make it a day for the players to enjoy and the supporters as well.
“Most of the lads are Rhinos supporters. People say it is like a cup final for us and, especially with Leeds’ new pitch, it will be like playing at Wembley for us, but one thing that’s not in our favour is that Barrow are going to look forward to playing at Headingley as much as we are.
“It is a nice wide pitch and that will be better for them, but we want to make it a great day for the players and the club.”
Milford are unbeaten this year, with a win and draw in their two Conference fixtures.
Stephenson said: “We won’t have a problem trying to gee the players up this week and motivate them, it’ll be up to us to try and calm it down.
“When emotions run too high it is very hard to give a good account of yourselves.
“But hopefully every player will play to their potential, so the Barrow players know they’ve been in a game.
“We aren’t going to sit back and try and contain them and keep the score down.
“We are going to try and throw some attack at them and score some points.
“We are not going to worry too much about the scoreboard. We are certainly going to go out and attack them.”
Barrow are in turmoil after coach Anthony Murray resigned suddenly this week.
Stephenson said: “He played against a lot of our boys in the Conference and he was coach of Millom before he went to Barrow. He will know a lot about us and he is a good guy so we were looking forward to crossing swords with him.”
Marlins have a much-changed squad this year, with prop Sam Morton, second-row Shane Tasker-Howard and loose-forward James Barker all spending the season at Australian club Southport Tigers.
But Marlins have recruited five from Down Under and three of them – half-back Sam Clayton, centre Whetu Austin and second-row Travis Stolk – have impressed in the early part of the season.
Two others, full-back Nathan Deane and hooker Jonathan Sawers, arrived last week and made their debut in the reserves, the latter being named man of the match.
Loose-forward Matthew Brocksom and winger/centre Sam Wilson have returned to Marlins, who are expecting big things from ex-Wigan St Patricks full-back Brad Ibbison.
Scrum-half Josh Parle and prop John Elkington are both poised to return from injury tomorrow.
Milford chairman Bob Barker said: “We would like to say a massive thank you to all at Leeds Rhinos and the Leeds Rugby Foundation for making it possible for the Marlins to stage the game at Headingley.
“It will be a great occasion for the players and the Milford club and one that will always be part of Milford history.”
Admission for the match is £7 for adults and £3 for under-16s and will be via a gate near the club shop.
Meanwhile, tomorrow’s visit of Oxford in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup (3pm) is more than just a rehearsal for Hunslet Hawks.
Hunslet’s priority this year is winning Kingstone Press Championship One and they meet Oxford again next week in that competition, but coach Barry Eaton insisted the home third round tie is just as important as their road trip in eight days’ time.
“We want to do as well as we possibly can in the Challenge Cup and this is chance for us to put into action some of the things we didn’t quite execute well enough last week,” Eaton stressed.
“We are looking forward to it and we’re certainly taking it as seriously as a league game. The fact we are going down there next week in the league makes it more interesting.”
Hunslet will be looking to get back on the horse after last week’s 28-26 league defeat to York City Knights. Eaton was disappointed by his team’s performance on attack and defence, but encouraged by the margin of defeat – to one of their main rivals – after such a below-par display.
He added: “From the two games we’ve played so far we understand that every team in Championship One has got some quality in there. Oxford have a good full-back in Sean Morris, the hooker Alex Thompson has played in Super League for Warrington and they look a big, physical side, so we’re expecting a tough battle.”
Elsewhere, Dewsbury Rams won’t take amateur visitors West Hull lightly in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup third round tomorrow (3pm), after learning that lesson last week.
Rams will face the National Conference Premier Division champions on the back of a 23-16 home defeat by Whitehaven in the Kingstone Press Championship.
The Cumbrians were bottom of the table after losing all three previous games this season and boss Glenn Morrison said: “A few people didn’t turn up quite as well as they should have done and we saw the result of that.
“We have to treat every game like a Grand Final, prepare the same and turn up and play as well as we can, or we will get a result like last week.
“We aren’t going to take them lightly, we are going to work hard to improve and hopefully we will get a win so we can go into the Sheffield game next week with some confidence.”
West Hull are the top team in the amateur game and Morrison added: “Scott Spaven went and played with them when he left us last year so I watched quite a few of their games. They are a quality team and they will come and give it to us. They will want to start well, so we’ve got to stay in the game and them wear them down.”
East Leeds are determined to make a mark when they visit Kingstone Press Championship champions Sheffield Eagles in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup third round tomorrow (2pm).
“We played Leigh in the same round last year, so we know what to expect,” said Easts’ player/assistant-coach Tom Sheldrake. “It is not going to be easy by any means, but it is something we are looking forward to.
“We don’t know a lot about them so we are going into the unknown a bit, but last year we gave a good account of ourselves and we want to do the same.”
The gulf between the semi-professional game and the National Conference Premier Division is massive and Easts know it would take something very special for their name to go into the bag for Tuesday’s fourth round draw.
“We got a try at Leigh last year and we were over the moon with that,” Sheldrake said. “We could have had three or four – we blew some chances and we had a couple disallowed. We would like to post a few points and let them know they have been there.”
Easts – who have injury doubts over Adam Hartley (leg), Jack Ely (ribs) and Jason Priestley (knee) – have been arguably the biggest achievers in the National Conference over the past couple of seasons, winning back-to-back titles to progress from Division Two to the top-flight.
Sheldrake said: “The last time we lost was Rochdale Mayfield away last year. Carrying on from last year we have gone something like 16 or 17 games unbeaten, so we are in good form.
“It is good to be on a big stage and being in this round two years running is putting the East Leeds club back on the map.
“We have had some dark days and we lost our pitch a few years ago, but we have got a new one now, we are back on our feet and we are only going to go forward from here.”
Admission for the fixture at Owlerton Stadium is £10 for adults, £5 concessions and £3 for under-16s and students.