IT'S Challenge Cup time again and we welcome Featherstone Rovers to Odsal.

Of course, we have played them once already and pipped them at the post for the narrowest of wins.

Tomorrow’s tie has the makings of a classic and the prize for the winner is a potentially-lucrative last-16 fixture when the remaining Super League sides enter the competition.

Our two clubs both have a long and proud tradition in the cup and, in fact, have met in the final in 1973.

We won’t dwell on that result but there is a small touch of poignancy tomorrow given the Featherstone coach that day was none other than Peter Fox, who later served this club with great distinction. Peter, of course, died last month, and I can’t help but wonder who he would be cheering for tomorrow; possibly an honourable draw.

Last week we won a hard-fought victory against the Dewsbury Rams. The match was everything I expected, a well organised and thoroughly well-prepared opposition. In fairness I thought we deserved the points even though we didn’t get in front until the half time hooter.

It was a solid, if unspectacular, performance and there is still improvement needed particularly in attack. But a win is a win as they say and with very big, season-defining games coming up we need more of the same and better.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish young Oliver Wilson all the best following his career switch to Huddersfield.

No one likes to see our young talent leave the club and certainly not I.

But you have to face facts with relative freedom of contract available for young talent; the club has lost too many talented young kids without proper compensation over the past few years; for all sorts of reasons. I won’t be letting that happen on my watch.

I hope Oliver makes the most of his opportunity and has a great career, safe in the knowledge that the Bulls treated him fairly and with respect. Who knows, like possibly many others, we may well see him back in the red amber and black before he finishes his career.

Like the masses, I watched the Grand National at Aintree last weekend. What a treat and it made for a great television spectacle.

The stands were full, the crowd loud and the sporting drama at its highest. Like the Melbourne Cup in Australia, which I religiously watch each year, it really is the race that stops a nation.

The whole event got me thinking about what it is that makes for great sport and great entertainment, because this certainly was.

One thing I’ve noticed over here is how bombarded we are with soccer, I mean football. It really is 24/7 across all channels and floods out everything. I don’t really see too much in it, but millions of people do, so who am I to question it. Undoubtedly it is the nation’s sport of choice. So, what makes it so compelling and more importantly can rugby league learn anything from it?

Having watched sport around the world, I have arrived at a fundamental conclusion. Simplicity is best. You can explain the Grand National pretty much in one sentence; the horses set off together, jump the obstacles and the first one over the line wins.

There are other rules, less obvious to the casual observer, the weights, the use of the stick, any contact between the horses, but fundamentally the average and casual viewer need not trouble themselves with much of this, and I won’t spoil their thorough enjoyment.

Then you look at soccer. Again, a pretty straight forward concept; ball, goals, no hands, no fouls and then the enigma of the offside rules. But the offer is pretty straightforward, plenty of ball movement up and down the pitch and the ball passing between attack and defence regularly, keeping everyone engaged on the contest. It’s far from perfect, the phoney fouls, the diving, the time wasting for substitutions and the yobbish behaviour of some players, but these are contaminations of what is a simple, basic rule book.

Which brings me back to the sport I love…rugby league.

Having watched, played, administrated and now invested in it for most of my life I feel compelled to offer my view. I think we have much to admire, the athleticism and the mutual respect and yes, partially at least the basic simplicity, certainly when compared to rugby union.

However, I do feel our law makers are letting us down a little, as fans, by some of the well-intended improvements that deliver unintended consequences.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Can anyone tell me please, nowadays, what is the point of the scrum.

It had relevance when it was a contest for the ball, but that ship sailed three decades ago.

We seem to be emotionally attached to it, but for me it is a ridiculous aberration with wingers, half backs and frankly anyone pretending to bind and lumbering front rowers standing one out to take the ball up.

I appreciate that returning to contested scrums would bring its own set of problems, re-setting the scrum, feeding and re-introducing specialist players like open side props and hookers; previously players that weren’t exactly mobile but who were there to 'do a job'. You would also jeopardise what has passed into being a basic tenet of our sport – a parity of position between the sides.

So, contested scrums might not be the brightest solution.

But there does need to be one, because what we have is ridiculous. That we, staunch fans, tolerate it, is no real excuse. The casual sports fans, those we need to attract, those tuning into the Grand National, or the Olympics find the phantom contest to be a phoney aspect.

If it is to be retained, make it relevant, give the feeding side the chance to pack with five not six, pull the defending sides 10 metres apart to create a bit more space for attacking options.

Do something, do anything, but make it relevant or otherwise succumb to the reality, that it is a redundant concept belonging to the time when the fundamental rules of the contest were different.

And here is another one that a friend said to me recently. Why do we punish the fumble so harshly?. Why are we forensically looking to see whether a player’s fingertip touched the ball or whether they picked it up cleanly? Given scrums are now not contested it is the equivalent of handing the ball over. For goodness sake the rulebook actually says, “the player shall place or drop the ball and back heel it with his foot.”

The knock-on was, as I understand it, introduced because when the sport was first created the law makers had to find reasons for possession to pass from one to the other. There was no six-tackle rule, a team could have the ball the whole half, the entire 40 minutes, if it played safe, error free, rugby. So, the law makers had to find reasons to change possession or at least put possession at risk by holding a scrummage….hence the scrum for a knock on.

I start from a basic principal, keep it simple and keep refereeing interventions to a minimum. Full stop. Penalise foul play for sure.

Penalise cheating agreed; but don’t effectively penalise what amounts to a skill deficiency, which is what a fumble is. Why am I arguing this? The recent advancements, no make that changes, in the sport over the past decades are all about more and more microscopic, forensic analysis as to which player touches the ball first. Ball strips, contest for high kicks, to name but two.

Is this really the essential beauty of our sport? Don’t we want to see the ball in play, positive and athletic movement and points being scored or saved. This hands in, hand on ball wrestle is a turn off to the new fan, and just serves to make the referee the most important person on the pitch, not the least as it should be.

Why is this so important? Because for as much as I love our sport, the rest of the world doesn’t I’m afraid. And we need to understand what they are seeing which we aren’t.

So in my opinion our law makers, wherever they may be in the world, are letting us down by not considering these kinds of issues.

Let’s keep it simple, get the ball in play and leave the technical forensics to the other rugby sport and let’s wave play on.

Back to the task at hand, Sunday’s Challenge Cup encounter will be a close game maybe as close as round one.

I know Featherstone chairman Mark Campbell will be having a quiet word into his charges ears.

We know they are still smarting over losing our first encounter in chilly February. One thing’s for certain, they will come here expecting to win. We expect them to have a large vocal travelling crowd and be throwing everything at the Bulls. This will be a tight desperate fight to progress towards the final 16.

Get along to show your support and cheer your Bulls team at Odsal Stadium. Check out the Game Guide online or in the T&A, as you prepare for your weekly footie fix. Kick-off is tomorrow, 3pm. Tickets available in the club shop or online at #COYB #BullsNation