Challenge Cup: Friday's quarter-final talking points
Watch Catalans Dragons against Salford Red Devils (6pm) followed by Leeds Rhinos taking on Hull Kingston Rovers (8.15pm) live on Sky Sports Arena in Friday's Challenge Cup quarter-finals
Last Updated: 17/09/20 12:59pm
We take a look at some talking points and team news ahead of Friday's two Challenge Cup quarter-finals as Catalans Dragons face Salford Red Devils and Leeds Rhinos tackle Hull Kingston Rovers...
Watkins returns to his roots
It is back to the club where it all began for Kallum Watkins as the centre prepares take to the field for his Salford Red Devils debut on Friday evening.
The England international may have made his name as part of Leeds Rhinos' all-conquering teams, but it was watching Salford as a child and later playing for their junior set-up which set him on that path.
1⃣ Kallum Watkins is set to make his Salford Red Devils debut on Friday!— Salford Red Devils (@SalfordDevils) September 16, 2020
👥 @CAtkin_93 and @Sargmiester have also been brought into Ian Watson's 21-man squad!
📺 Take a look at the team's preparations, on RDTV👉https://t.co/DUsaIfQxA2 pic.twitter.com/6Mg4uDYdkZ
Their home ground may be different these days, with Salford having long since departed The Willows for the AJ Bell Stadium, but Watkins is delighted to be somewhere which evokes so many special memories.
"Back at The Willows, it was always good fun," Watkins told Sky Sports. "My dad used to get us in there early and, especially the ball-boys, we were messing around with the rugby balls and that.
"It was always a good vibe when you went there and watching them play was great. You had The Shed and the fans getting into the opposition players and it was always fun to be part of that.
"I'm honoured to be able to come here, and I'm really grateful to look back and see where I came from, and that makes me proud."
Friday's Challenge Cup quarter-final against Catalans Dragons as part of the behind-closed-doors double-header at St Helens' Totally Wicked Stadium marks what the 29-year-old hopes will be the start of a new chapter in his career.
It has been a tough time for him both on and off the field, having left Leeds last year when the club was in turmoil and then seeing his ambitions in the NRL with Gold Coast Titans curtailed by a knee injury.
A return to these shores earlier this year came with his father suffering from illness and Watkins then linked up with Toronto Wolfpack, only for his reunion with former Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott to be cut short without playing a game as a result of the Canadian side's financial issues.
"The last few years, I've never had such a difficult time in all my life," Watkins said. "But at the same time, I feel like everything happened for a reason and to get an opportunity to come here, to where it all started, it makes it that extra bit special.
"It's something I really want to do and if we can make this team successful and constantly competing for trophies I'm all for it."
Tough choices ahead for Dragons?
Steve McNamara is mindful he may have some difficult decisions to make around future team selection if Catalans make it through to the last four of this year's Challenge Cup.
As well as being just two games away from a return to the final of the competition they won two years ago, the French side are among the play-off contenders on the points percentage-adjusted Super League table as well.
However, they also have a backlog of postponed fixtures to deal with too and McNamara, who guided the Dragons to that historic Cup win in 2018, is aware there may come a point where he has to choose where his priorities lie.
🏉 21 MAN SQUAD— Dragons Catalans (@DragonsOfficiel) September 16, 2020
Steve McNamara vient d'annoncer son groupe pour le quart de finale de Cup face à @SalfordDevils
▶ Sam Moa, Micky McIlorum, Josh Drinkwater
◀ Lucas Albert, Anto Maria, Lambert Belmas
🇬🇧 https://t.co/ix5VdIQDNA#Dragons 🐉 pic.twitter.com/ckkw1guXCY
"This week we've a clear run at it but, if we get to the semi-finals, I think we've got Leeds away scheduled for the Wednesday night and, if we happen to get to the final, I think we have Wigan away on the Wednesday," McNamara said. "Decisions would have to be made at that point.
"It's going to be extremely hard, as we saw last week with Hull and Castleford who had eyes on both. It's really difficult.
"But there are two trophies to win each year and, in a 10-year career as a player, there are 20 opportunities to win trophies, so to toss one aside is a really difficult thing to do."
McNamara's concerns are somewhat allayed by him having 32 players in the Dragons squad at present, plus a group of part-time players he can call on who are preparing for French Elite One season, which starts in December.
Smith eyes continued Rovers revival
Tony Smith is optimistic Hull Kingston Rovers can maintain the high standards they have set in Super League in recent weeks when they return to Challenge Cup action.
The surprise win over Wigan Warriors was followed up with Rovers pushing reigning Super League champions and last year's Cup runners-up St Helens all the way last week, only to lose out in golden point extra time.
They now face a Leeds side sitting fourth in the points percentage-adjusted table and Smith is eager for his side to keep doing what they have been doing against his former club.
"We've had to raise our standards in the last few weeks in order to compete," Smith told Hull Live. "That's a good thing as long as we don't let those standards drop.
"Sometimes after big performances you can have dips in form but hopefully that's not going to be the case. Hopefully we're finding consistency in what we're doing and that stands us in good stead come Friday night."
Rovers have already played one Challenge Cup match in 2020, beating Leigh Centurions 22-19 back on March 15 just before the season was suspended.
Smith also welcomes Robbie Mulhern and Jamie Ellis back into his 21-man squad for the clash with the Rhinos, but Jordan Abdull is suspended.
Donaldson excited for Cup reunion
Five years ago, James Donaldson lined up for Hull KR against Leeds in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, although it is perhaps not a day he would like to be reminded of.
Rovers were well-beaten that afternoon as Leeds stormed to a 50-0 triumph, with Lance Todd Trophy winner Tom Briscoe running in five tries.
Donaldson, who made the move from the East Hull club to the Rhinos for the 2019 season, is looking forward to tackling his former club in the Cup and expects Friday's clash to be much closer than their Wembley meeting.
"I can't wait," Donaldson told Rhinos TV. "The Challenge Cup is something a bit different to the normal league [games] and has that something extra a bit special about it.
Richard Agar has named his 21 man squad to face Hull KR in @thechallengecup this Friday— Leeds Rhinos (@leedsrhinos) September 16, 2020
🔙 Prior, Mellor, Martin, Holroyd, L Briscoe
🆕 Walters, O'Connor
🚫 Thompson, Ferres, Harrison, Dwyer, A Sutcliffe
➡ Find out more here https://t.co/dcMpWuUwHz pic.twitter.com/qbLw5CKG60
"They seem like they're really enjoying their rugby again and working hard for each other, and it is paying off for them.
"They're taking teams really close at the moment, so we'll have to be at our best."
Only Briscoe and Adam Cuthbertson remain in the Leeds squad from that final, while head coach Richard Agar has brought 19-year-old Jarrod O'Connor and 21-year-old Sam Walters into his 21-man squad for this match.
Matt Prior, Rhyse Martin, Luke Briscoe, Tom Holroyd and Alex Mellor all return after missing last week's narrow win over Huddersfield Giants as well.