Within ten days of negotiating a straightforward triumph over Batley at the first hurdle, Rovers faced the altogether more complicated task of beating Salford on their own patch in the second round of the Challenge Cup, played on Sunday 27th February 1983. In between the two Cup ties, Rovers had drawn 17-all against Castleford in a league match.
Rovers had been forced into a couple of changes to the line up that faced Batley. With Phil Johnson injured, Alan Banks slotted in at stand-off. Both players had been vying for the number six shirt all season and now the teenager had a chance to claim it as his own. Ray Handscombe was also out injured, so Keith Bell filled in at hooker. Despite being in the Second Division, Salford had no fear of Rovers having already accounted for top flight Leigh in the first round. In their team there was no Steve Nash who was battling against a career-threatening eye injury, but still contained such wily campaigners such as George Nicholls and player-coach Mal Aspey.
First blood went to the Rovers. Nigel Barker, in one of his trademark link-ups from fullback, created the extra man and scored. Salford hit back with prolific wingman Keith Fielding going over. When Mal Aspey crossed soon after, Rovers were 8-5 down and had a real struggle on their hands. A score before half-time was vital and it was that man Nigel Barker who again provided the goods, racing past the Salford full-back with a 40 yard burst to the line. Steve Quinn’s conversion sent Rovers in 10-8 up and in good spirits. Despite having plenty of possession in the second-half Salford failed to make any headway against committed Rovers defence, and the visitors were always on top. Skipper Terry Hudson nipped in for a try after selling a dummy and Rovers were through. A late consolation try to Salford didn’t affect the outcome.
The Rovers team was: Nigel Barker (2 tries), John Marsden, Steve Quinn (4 goals), John Gilbert, Ken Kellett, Alan Banks, Neil Pickerill, Mick Gibbins, Keith Bell, Steve Hankins, David Hobbs, Peter Smith, Terry Hudson (try). Subs: Tim Slatter, Gary Siddall.
In the other second round fixtures St. Helens notched an impressive victory at Headingley against Leeds, holders Hull FC accounted for Wakefield, Bradford won at new boys Fulham, and Castleford got a creditable win up in Barrow. When the quarter-final draw was made, Rovers were out of luck completely. Whilst Castleford got a trip to Hunslet, and Bradford had to travel to Workington, Rovers were given the massive task of facing St. Helens at Knowsley Road. In the other tie, Warrington faced Hull. Rovers had two weeks to prepare for this game with a tough league fixture away to Warrington sandwiched in between the Cup fixtures.
Difficult though it may be for young fans to believe, back in the early 1980s Rovers would enter the Challenge Cup knowing that a bit of luck and a bit of form could see it become “our” year. After a relatively quiet start, the quarter-final, however daunting it looked, was be the first time fans started to think that 1983 could be our year.