Leeds v Leigh preview.
In-form Leigh eyeing Leeds scalp
Leigh coach Paul Rowley is delighted to put the only 100 per cent record in 2014 to the ultimate test, against the Tetley's Challenge Cup favourites.
The runaway Championship leaders take on Super League high-fliers Leeds in Friday night's quarter-final at Headingley on the back on a club record 16-match winning run.
Rowley insists his in-form team will be going all out to cause an upset, just like Alex Murphy's team of 1971 did against Leeds at Wembley, and, unlike his Keighley counterpart Paul March, will field his strongest side, although he has much sympathy for the Cougars boss' decision to send a weakened team to Widnes for the first quarter-final.
"I totally understand what Keighley are doing," Rowley said. "I think, rather than focus on Keighley, focus on the predicament Championship clubs have been put in where they have to choose one or the other because they've not been afforded a free weekend.
"It's unfair. When so much is at stake - a third of our league gets relegated - I don't think people should be too hasty to judge what Keighley have done.
"It crossed my mind (to field a weakened team) but, as a sportsman, in my heart it goes against all my moral fibres to not go and try to win every game I play or coach in. I suppose that's what won in the end and I'm comfortable with my decision.
"We want to challenge ourselves and also believe in ourselves. We're not picking our battles. We'll accept any challenge and do our best to achieve."
Whereas Keighley are fighting a relegation battle, the Centurions have the luxury of a seven-point lead at the top of the Championship and Friday's game will give Rowley a chance to assess his team's progress since they lost 64-10 at home to the Rhinos in the 2012 quarter-finals.
Leigh have certainly come a long way in the three years since Rowley took charge of a decimated team struggling in the face of a financial crisis that threatened the very future of the famous club.
"I started with eight players and no staff," Rowley recalled. "We've over-achieved for the last couple of years and then we've kind of evolved as a team.
"We've certainly brought the age of the team down so we're a young team now. It's a bit like having a puppy dog on a lead, they just want to get off. On Friday night, we'll let the dog off the lead and see what happens."
The Centurions, whose last defeat was at the hands of Batley in the Championship play-offs last September, have a host of players Rowley feels can trouble the Rhinos, most notably prolific half-back Ryan Brierley, who has scored 27 tries this season, including nine in his last six matches, to draw interest from a string of Super League clubs.
"He is on fire but there are others and if they focus on Ryan, it will create space for other people," Rowley said. "We've got a talented team.
"We'll have a crack. I hope the weather's nice. Leeds like to play and entertain and they will want to get the ball into Joel Moon's hands as quick as possible because they've got the best backline in the country. But we also like to play so, if it's dry, we should be in for a little treat."
Leeds forward Chris Clarkson insists the Rhinos will not underestimate their largely part-time visitors as they aim to keep alive their hopes of a first cup final success since 1999.
"Leigh are in great form and we are aware that it will not be easy by any means." said Clarkson. "They have been one of the top Championship teams for a while now and they will be ready for the game I'm sure.
"I have played in two Challenge Cup finals and lost both which has been heartbreaking. I remember going to the 1999 final when Leeds played London Broncos and it was just an amazing experience. I was playing rugby at the time as a kid and remember thinking I want to play in a game like this.
"I think lots of Leigh fans will be making the journey over on Friday and I am sure the atmosphere will be great. There's nothing better than playing at Headingley on a Friday night - well, maybe playing at Wembley!"