FOUR sides step into the heat of battle tomorrow as the Foster’s Worsley Cup reaches the last-four stage – with holders Burnley going all out to defend the trophy they won so memorably 12 months ago.

Bharat Tripathi’s men host Nelson in what is sure to be a tight game at Myprotein Turf Moor while a huge crowd is expected at the Worswick Memorial Ground as Rawtenstall entertain Lowerhouse in another clash that is too close to call.

Rawtenstall skipper Vinny Hanson knows the size of the task facing his men as they entertain the league leaders but he has told his men to go out and savour the occasion.

“Cup semi-finals are huge games,” said Hanson. “League cricket is quite a demanding game on your time with the hours you put in not just over the weekends but also in the week at nets but it’s games like this that make it all worthwhile.

“You want to play in front of these big crowds in the big atmosphere but we know how hard this game is.

“Lowerhouse are a terrific side, they are top of the league and have proved over the years their quality so we know what to expect and we know we will have to be at our very best.”

Rawtenstall won the cup 11 years ago but have had a lean time since then and Hanson added: “I had the great privilege of lifting the cup in my first season as captain back in 2003 but we have had something of a divorce from it since then and apart from this year we’ve only been in the second round once.

“So we will see where we go after tomorrow.”

Wicketkeeper Hanson will hang up his gloves at the end of the season and a Worsley Cup final appearance would be a dream end to his career. But he insists tomorrow isn’t about him.

“I suppose if we get through to the final it’s a nice little story,” he said. “But that means nothing yet. All I will say is that I will be going out there to try and win – and all the lads will be doing the same.”

Rawtenstall have been dealt a blow as bowler Rizwan Shafiq has not recovered from injury.

The seamer, who has been sidelined for the best part of a month with a groin problem, was hoping to return and was set to play in the seconds this afternoon and was included in the squad for tomorrow.

However he failed a fitness test on Thursday night and has been forced to withdraw.

“Rizwan is probably still a couple of weeks away,” added Hanson. “He was pushing to play but we told him he needed to play in the seconds and bowl a couple of long, hard spells. He isn’t quite right and it is better to take the decision now rather than leave it until the morning.”

Lowerhouse are without Rawtenstall-born all-rounder Joey Hawke but have Jonathan Finch available and former Burnley batsman Steve Whittaker, who moved to the Neville Gee Recruitment Ground in the winter, steps into the limelight.

Burnley won the cup by beating Haslingden last year and would love a repeat – but they need to get past a tough Nelson side first.

In 20 Worsley Cup ties the old rivals have won 10 each but any league form always goes out of the window.

“It’s a huge game,” said Burnley professional Chris Holt. “When I was playing in the Ribblesdale League I was always jealous of the lads playing in the Worsley Cup and I can’t wait for the game.”

Burnley name a squad of 13 including Derbyshire star Jon Clare and former Surrey opener and club chairman Michael Brown.

Nelson are also at strength for the short trip with record-breaking former professional Joe Scuderi replacing Michael Bradley in the side.

The Lancashire Telegraph Trophy also reaches the semi-final stage with East Lancashire hosting Rishton and Ramsbottom travelling to Haslingden.