Aston wants Wembley return

Sheffield Eagles will start their defence of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup in April as part of a fresh look for the competition.

Mark Aston’s side lifted the inaugural trophy with a memorable Wembley triumph over Widnes in August last year, and he is keen to return.

Aston said: “It was a fantastic day for us as a club.

“There were people who didn’t support it and I understand the reasons for some of that with double fixtures.

“But how many people get the chance to play at Wembley?

“We had a number of players come through our system that were probably on the terrace when we won the Challenge Cup in 1998, and for them to realise their dream is something special.

“We’d loved to go back – why wouldn’t we?”

This season Sheffield will join eleven other Championship clubs, minus Toulouse and London, who have chosen not to take part, plus five clubs from League One and three leading community clubs.

National Conference League champions West Hull will join York Acorn and Underbank Rangers in the first round draw, which will be held in Cumbria on March 18.

They will be joined by five clubs from League One – Barrow Raiders, Doncaster, Keighley Cougars, Newcastle Thunder and Rochdale Hornets.

As last year, the twelve Betfred Championship clubs who have entered the competition have been given a bye to the second round, where they will be joined by the four first-round winners.

This year the second round draw will also be held on March 18 at Ullswater Heights Leisure Resort, to allow clubs more time to plan their fixtures.

The first round ties are scheduled for the weekend of April 18-19, with the eight second round ties to be played in midweek, in the week starting April 27.

The quarter-finals will be played in the week starting May 11, with both semi-finals on Sunday June 7 – and the final again at Wembley Stadium on Coral Challenge Cup Final Day, July 18, but this year being played ahead of the Coral Challenge Cup Final, with a midday kick-off.

Mark Foster, chief commercial officer of the Rugby Football League, said: “The competition was introduced last year to give non-Super League clubs a second chance to earn a trip to Wembley, and it’s great to see three community clubs who have already made a big impact in the Coral Challenge Cup this season – Underbank Rangers, West Hull and York Acorn – getting involved.

“Sheffield Eagles and Widnes Vikings were the first two clubs to earn a trip to Wembley last year, and you only had to watch their semi-final victories over Batley and Leigh respectively, or the memorable quarter-final performances produced by Barrow, Doncaster and York, to see that the competition had gripped the imagination of players, coaches and supporters.

“We’ll again be showing a game from each round on Our League, as well as both semi-finals.

“We appreciate that playing the Second Round and the Quarter Finals in midweek is challenging, especially for players.

“But before introducing this new competition last year we discussed all options with the clubs and it was agreed that it would be unavoidable, given the demands of our other competitions. We hope the players and supporters feel that it’s worthwhile for the chance of a trip to Wembley.”

Meanwhile Sheffield’s fourth-round Coral Challenge Cup tie against Halifax will be played on Saturday at Belle Vue, Wakefield, kick-off 2pm.