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Challenge Cup quarter-final: Widnes Vikings v Keighley Cougars preview
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Super League's Widnes Vikings will be the favourites to book their place in the semi-finals of the Tetley's Challenge Cup when they host Keighley Cougars on Thursday.
The Vikings, coming off the back of a 26-26 draw with Catalan Dragons, are seventh in the top flight while the Cougars occupy the same spot in the Championship having won seven and lost six of their league games this season.
Widnes remain without captain Jon Clarke, who is retiring from the game at the end of the season, due to injury while winger Paddy Flynn is completes a two-match ban for the Super League club.
"We've got Jon Clarke coming back soon, he's just not right this week. Then we've got Hep Cahill and Joe Mellor who aren't far behind him, Phil Joseph isn't far behind those two," head coach Denis Betts told the club's official website.
Widnes stand-off Kevin Brown, a former team-mate of March at Huddersfield who will captain the Vikings in the absence of the injured Jon Clarke, insists his side will not underestimate their opponents.
"We don't want to take Keighley too lightly because Super League teams can get burnt," said Brown. "Keighley have some quality players but if we can play the way we know we can, then we can win comfortably.
"We will respect them and I will tell the boys to treat them as if we were playing Leeds or Wigan in Super League but I will also tell them to enjoy the occasion."
Keighley player-coach Paul March is sidelined for the clash as he is currently halfway through a two-month stadium ban after being found guilty of verbally abusing a referee.
Under the terms of the suspension, March is forced to leave the ground half-an-hour before kick-off and not return until 30 minutes after the final whistle.
In March's absence, conditioning coaches Adam Mitchell and Paul Royston take charge of substitutions, with experienced players Paul Handforth, Danny Jones and James Feather running the show on the pitch, and five consecutive wins up to last Sunday's loss to Halifax indicate the arrangement is working a treat.
Keighley, who lost 18-5 to Widnes in their only Challenge Cup final appearance in 1937, are the 500-1 outsiders to lift the trophy for the first time at Wembley on August 23 and their chances of pulling off a major upset will not be helped by March's decision to field a weakened team.
"There's going to be at least 10 changes from Sunday's team and another 10 changes back for the game at Whitehaven," said March.
"I wouldn't say I'm disrespecting the Challenge Cup. We've got a squad of 34 players here and everybody needs game time. I think there will be one player playing on Thursday night who has not played one first-team game."
Widnes Vikings: Allen, Brown, Clough, Craven, Dean, Galea, Gerrard, Gilmore, Hanbury, Isa, Hulme, Johnson, Kavanagh, Lawton, Leuluai, Marsh, Owens, Tickle, White.
Keighley Cougars: J. Sheriffe, Barnett, Williams, Graham, Duffy, Kelly, Stead, Law, Lee, Peltier, Eccleston, Pursglove, Sagar, Haigh, Patchett, Cherryholme, Lynam, Hesketh, J. Sheriffe.
You can watch Widnes v Keighley tonight on Sky Sports 1HD at 7.55pm
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