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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 March 2005, 16:46 GMT
Local rivals set for Cup clash
by Julian Shea

The BBC Sport website has been following the fortunes of one club in the Powergen Challenge Cup since the competition began at the start of January.

West London Sharks and city rivals South London Storm have both fallen by the board in the first two rounds.

Now we focus on the Storm's conquerors Castleford Lock Lane as they get ready to face near neighbours Halifax.

Just 22 miles separate Castleford Lock Lane from Halifax, but in Challenge Cup terms they are poles apart.

Lock Lane have the most consistent Challenge Cup record of any amateur side in the country, but have never made it past round three.

Halifax have played in 12 finals, winning five, most recently in 1987 when they beat St Helens.

But past form will count for nothing on Friday as they meet at The Shay for a place in round four.

Anyone wanting to know just how much the Challenge Cup means to players should consult Friday's coaching teams.

Halifax assistants Mick Scott and Paul Dixon played in their 1987 winning side, and head coach Anthony Farrell was a winner with Leeds in 1999, a year after former Sheffield team-mate - and current Lock Lane coach - Matt Crowther won with the Eagles.

"The words Challenge Cup are the biggest thing in this sport, everyone wants a piece of it," says Farrell.

"Our win over London was the last one at Wembley, so that made it even more special.

The Cup is still the ultimate thing in the game, especially for us amateurs
Lock Lane's Mark Spears

"It only felt like we were out there for about 15 minutes, though. My main memories of the day are the heat, and the crowd noise as you walk up the tunnel - it's an awesome feeling."

While top-level professionals can dream of experiencing that for themselves, further down the ladder expectations are more modest, but the love of the tournament is no less.

Lock Lane are making their 10th third-round appearance in 11 seasons, but have never reached the promised land of round four.

Stand-off Mark Spears has played in seven of those defeats, but is still as in love with the Cup as anyone else.

"The Cup's still the ultimate thing in the game, especially for us amateurs," he says.

"It would be brilliant to reach round four - whoever we drew, just to play there and get some money for the club would be amazing."

One recent near-miss particularly sticks in his memory.

"Losing 26-14 to Doncaster is the one everyone remembers," he says.

"With five minutes left it was 14-14 and Lee Hughes touched down. The referee was going to give it, and so was the near touch judge, but the far one, over the other side of the pitch, said it was no try, so it wasn't given.

"They then scored twice in the last five minutes to go through, and we missed out again."

While Lock Lane are burdened with a history of what could have been, Halifax have a more positive Cup tradition, but coach Farrell says it is of limited relevance these days.

"Heritage is all very well, but it's been a few years since we won it and we're now a club who has to play in round three, so there's no point looking back," he says.

"Halifax is a big club and people in this town want things to happen, so a good Cup run will be good for the club.

"The National League season starts soon but we've had two friendlies, and four Northern Rail Cup matches, so we're not out of practice."

Last season was Halifax's first in the National League following their Super League annus horribilis in 2003, but Farrell says that is dead and buried as far as he is concerned.

"A lot of people go on about that "ex-Super League" tag but there have been lots of changes since then. We had a lot of problems but we're stable now."

People definitely raise their game against us, so Lock Lane are sure to give a good account of themselves
Halifax coach Anthony Farrell

Fixture congestion has seen the game switched from Saturday at Lock Lane to Friday night at The Shay, and both camps are clearly raring to get started.

"Lock Lane are a good side who churn out great players, and they'll bring plenty of fans, so it works out well for both teams," says Farrell.

"People definitely raise their game against us, so they're sure to give a good account of themselves."

Spears is similarly confident that Lock Lane will be inspired by the challenge of taking on their near neighbours.

"When you look at the draw, you look for local teams - Castleford or Halifax," he says.

"Halifax are big guns, the sort of side you want to test yourself against.

"It would be good for us to play the likes of them every week, as we know how to get ourselves up for that.

"To reach round four would definitely be our biggest achievement ever."

Over the years, Lock Lane and Halifax have played their part in the volumes of Challenge Cup history. By closing time on Friday night, one of them will have written another chapter.

Castleford Lock Lane play Halifax at The Shay on Friday 11 March, kick off 2000 GMT

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