Army Rugby League chief gearing up for latest mission in Challenge Cup

Army coach Mike Thompson has a clear idea of how he wants to approach the Challenge Cup second-round clash with the Navy – if not the exact line-up he will be putting out.

Thompson’s team tackle their fellow services side and old rivals at Aldershot Military Stadium on Saturday in a tie which will be streamed live by The Sportsman website.

The Army are aiming to follow up a fine 18-10 first-round win at Orrell St James, which was shown on BBC Sport.

And Thompson’s dream is another meeting with a semi-professional club like that of 2020, when the Army went to Rochdale Hornets in round four.

But the 41-year-old, who is a warrant officer in the Royal Engineers and has been involved in Rugby League since childhood (he grew up in Golborne, between Wigan and Warrington) knows the Navy will provide a tough test.

“They are a big side who like to muscle up and that they have a few new players who have been quite influential,” explained Thompson, who turned to coaching when injury limited his ability to play and who has had a spell on the staff at London Broncos.

“And a look at their first-round result (60-0 at Bridgend Blue Bulls) is an indicator of their strength, both in attack and defence, because you seldom nil a side easily.”

The nature of Army service means Thompson gets limited time to work with his players and always has concerns over availability.

“We’re not like a community club who can train together several times a week, because my players are all over the place,” he explained.

“For example, I came back from Germany ahead of the Orrell St James game while we had someone else fly in from Estonia.

“We maybe get together three days before a match, so we have to pack everything into a short space of time.

“On top of that, many soldiers can be called back to their respective regiments at short notice.

“The plus is that to the Army, sport is massive both for physical and mental wellbeing, and I get great cooperation in getting players.

“And I think it’s fair to say the Navy are in a similar situation to us.

“The main thing is that we are involved in the Challenge Cup, which is a huge honour for all of us.”

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.