The world's most venerable cup competition had, we thought, degenerated into a soul-less funnel where Amateurs queue up to get stuffed by championship clubs, championship clubs queue up to get stuffed by Super League clubs, and Super League clubs pray they don't get Warrington on a good day.
But this year, the cup seems to have regained a bit of its sparkle. Notwithstanding Hornets' exciting home draw with the resuscitated Bulls of Bradford, the draw has thrown up some intriguing contests that offer a chance for glory as well as a half-decent payday.
Certainly the prospect of testing our club against one of the biggest names in Super League has got fans buzzing - and it's an occasion not lost on Bradford coach Francis Cummins
Speaking ahead of the draw in this week's League Express, whilst he surely sees games like ours as a speed-bump on the road to cup glory - Cummins does appreciate the unique place that the competition holds in the hearts of Rugby League tragics like us:
"I have experienced the Challenge Cup as a player and as an assistant coach and I'm really looking forward to gettkng involved in the competition again, this time as a head coach. I've been lucky enough to go back to the new Wembley and that was a great experience…"
"Nothing has ever changed about the the Challenge Cup. The history is still there and everyone wants to get to the final. Every Super League side will be hoping for one of the lower league sides…"
Currently sitting a commendable third in Super-Duper League, Bradford warm-up for next weekend's Spotland tie with a tough game against Wigan. Cummins sees that one as a bellwether for their season.
In the Bradford Telegraph & Argus he said:
“We don’t want to look back and say we were third at Easter and then it all fell to bits. We’ve taken stock of it and have enjoyed where we are but we have to kick on now. You have a quick look at the table but we’re not going to be ruled by it… I believe we’re improving individually and as a group and I’m really happy that we’re getting the wins as well.”
The table-topping Pie Eaters will arrive at the infamous Odsal crater on Sunday with seven wins in their last eight games. With Josh Charnley, Pat Richards, Lee Mossop, Harrison Hansen and skipper Sean O’Loughlin all fit for selection, we can hope that they get a strenuous test and that Wigan soften them up nicely for us - because if history provides a guide, we'll need all the help we can get.
We don't cross paths with Bradford that often: 7 meetings since 1971, two wins amongst that number, the most famous the 19-12 victory on October 14th 1990 - Hornets only win of a disastrous top-flight season - in front of 3,626 people. Hornets outscored Bradford four tries to two that day (Cowie, Hall, Higgins, Lord), Ticker Turner converting just one. The crucial drop-goal came from the boot of Neil Holding.
That same season (December) Hornets went all the way to the Regal Trophy final at Headingley, losing 13-2 to Bradford in front of a measly 3,700.
Our most recent meeting was a 10-48 defeat at Spotland in the Challenge Cup against a Bradford side containing Matt Calland. Attendance that day was 5,466 - almost a season's attendance these days!
So, as the Bulls focus on their game with Wigan, Hornets have the bye, an opportunity for some vital team bonding and a week to plot a way to wedge a spanner in the Bradford machine (bearing in mind, against Hull FC and Castleford at this stage previously, Hornets have taken the lead!).
Here's hoping it flies by, we've not been as excited about a game for a quite a while.