Cup takes Powell back to his old stomping ground
Harlequins coach Rob Powell will be back on familiar territory when he takes his team to play Gateshead Thunder in the fourth round of the Carnegie Challenge Cup on Friday (8.00).
Sheffield-born Powell played his first game of Rugby League in 1998 when he went to Newcastle University to study history. He was so taken with the game that after gaining his degree he went on to coach his old university team following a switch to Northumbria University for 18 months to do a Masters Degree in Sport Management. So the North East holds fond memories for the youngest head coach in Super League.
“I enjoyed it, it’s a good place and I had a good time,” he recalls. “Rugby League was just kicking off then. There had been a lot of activity for quite a while but there was only one team.
“A guy called Rob Jones coached the university team and we had a couple of decent players, including Andy Raleigh, who was the year below me. We won the North East Cup, won our local university division and got into the Challenge Cup and managed to win the first round.
“Rob is still a development officer in the North East. He was the first person to encourage me to go into coaching and I’m still in touch with him.”
Powell took over at The Stoop when Brian McDermott left for the Leeds Rhinos towards the end of last year. So how do you approach a Cup game against a side from two divisions below?
“You can’t go up there with the wrong sort of attitude,” he said. “Although on paper the quality of the player is not going to be as high as Super League, they are still going to be a decent outfit. I think the challenge is to prepare the blokes as well as we can, knowing that you've still got to compete and do lots of the little things well.”
Quins have already played a Co-operative Championship 1 side this season when they took on the London Skolars in the annual Capital Challenge pre-season friendly. “I know the score line was a big one against Skolars, but for the first 20/25 minutes it was a really decent hit out and against Gateshead it will be a similar thing.”
And he knows that when it comes to the Challenge Cup, players are going to fight that bit harder. “Any team that’s playing in the Challenge Cup is not going to roll over and as Rugby League players they’ll be proud of playing for their club. We’ve got to make sure we do things well in the first 20 minutes to nullify their threats.”
So how much does he know about the Thunder? “I don’t know too much about them – I know the team’s changed a little bit, but their director of rugby, Chris Hood, used to coach Northumbria University when I coached Newcastle University.
“Also, Gary Sargent, who used to be involved in our under-18s, plays for them having gone to university up there. Joe Brown is another Londoner in their squad.”
Harlequins will be travelling up by train on Friday and they will find The Gateshead International Arena a very different place from The Stoop. “It’s an interesting place to play Rugby League,” said Powell. “Being primarily an athletics stadium, it’s very similar to the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield. It gets windy and the crowd are quite a long way away from the pitch. It can be quite a tough place to play.”
Tickets for the Carnegie Challenge Cup fourth round contest between Gateshead Thunder and Harlequins RL at the Gateshead International Stadium cost £10 for adults and £5 for children when pre-booked via Jason Payne on 0191 433 5710 or £15 on the turnstile. Harlequins season ticket holders are eligible for free admission.
Tickets for the 2011 Carnegie Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday August 27 costs from £21 to £76 and are selling fast. Last year’s final was a sell-out and fans are advised to move quickly to secure their seat at the historic showpiece final. To book tickets call 0844 856 1113 or visit www.rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk
For more information about the Carnegie Challenge Cup visit www.carnegiechallengecup.co.uk