A bruising bonanza of rugby league comes to Blackpool this weekend as Bloomfield Road stages its fifth annual Summer Bash.
Blackpool FC will again stage a full round of seven fixtures in the Betfred Championship – the tier below Super League – over two days.
The weekend kicks off on Saturday with a transatlantic tussle between the top two Toronto Wolfpack and French club Toulouse Olympique at 1.15pm.
A Greater Manchester derby follows between Rochdale Hornets and Swinton Lions (3.30pm) before the Yorkshire clubs take over.
Featherstone Rovers, who have never won at Blackpool in four attempts, take on York City Knights at 5.45pm before Bradford Bulls face Halifax at 8pm in a dress rehearsal for their Challenge Cup quarter-final.
The Bulls revived memoried of their glory days with a victory over deadly rivals Leeds Rhinos in the last round of the cup, and their reward of a draw against Halifax guarantees that a Championship club will feature in the semi-finals, just 80 minutes from Wembley.
The three-match Sunday programme begins with Sheffield Eagles v Barrow Border Raiders at 1pm. Batley Bulldogs have faced Dewsbury Rams every year at Blackpool and that rivalry is renewed from 3.15pm before Widnes Vikings make their Summer Bash bow at 5.30pm against Leigh Centurions, both clubs having featured in Super League in recent years.
The Challenge Cup exploits of Bradford and Halifax means their Blackpool clash a fortnight before they meet again in the quarter-finals is piquing the interest.
This is the Yorkshire rivals’ first Blackpool meeting since the inaugural Summer Bash of 2015. Bradford beat Halifax on Good Friday and their versatile back-rower, half-back or centre Elliot Minchella is looking forward to more of the same.
“It certainly lived up to everything I expected and there was a big crowd at The Shay,” he said. “The rivalry has always been there and Halifax perhaps look at us as the big city slickers.”
The Championship is the second tier of English RL, below Super League, and ex-Leeds player Minchella would love to return to the top level with the Bulls.
He added: “The Summer Bash is a fantastic opportunity to show what we are captable of in front of a live Sky TV audience.
“Thousands of Bradford fans will be there and it will be a good occasion to show how far we have come as a club.”
One of the powerhouses of the game in the first decade of Super League, Bradford are anxious to return to former glories.
Michella said: “I want to get back into Super League and would love to do it with Bradford. It’s my hometown club and it’s in my blood.
“A big part of the rebuild has been based on local players who stood on the terraces and watched Bradford in their heyday. That’s what we are trying to get back to.”
Among those standing in their way on Saturday will be Halifax’s veteran full-back Quentin Laula-Togaga’e, the Samoa international formerly with Sheffield Eagles and Castleford.
He is planning for his future but isn’t yet thinking beyond Blackpool, saying: “The Summer Bash is a massive event for us, especially with it being against arguably our biggest rivals.
“I’m doing a sports coaching degree in Leeds. I’ll know when I’m ready to retire but I don’t think it will be any time soon.
“When I finally do retire I’ll head home to Auckland and the degree will give me another option. I can see myself working in sports development full-time.”