Challenge Cup preview: Second-round action set to thrill

Betfred Challenge Cup fever is hotting up among amateur sides as the second round approaches – nowhere more than in the capital, where London Chargers’ last-gasp victory over Ellenborough Rangers last week set up a hugely attractive tie at League 1 outfit London Skolars. 

The Chargers’ success wasn’t the only triumph for London outfits. Wests Warriors returned to the Smoke basking in a 52-14 win at Jarrow Vikings; a victory that sees them taking a similar trip, this time to National Conference League Premiers York Acorn. Head coach Kim Parkinson told League Express: “The squad had a light recovery session, followed by a video session, on Wednesday night after the great battle at Jarrow.

“Sunday will be a bit more intense, with a contact session planned and, finally, Wednesday night will be the captain’s team run.

“The boys are aware that York Acorn will be a very tough challenge and we are expecting, and preparing for, a fast and physical match.”

He concluded: “For us, it’s all about the experience of playing in the Challenge Cup. We have the belief in our squad that we can match it with the northern clubs so we are going into the match with a positive attitude and we will just see what happens on the day. It’s 80 minutes of footy, so anything can happen!”

While Acorn and the Warriors will be making acquaintance for the first time, Hunslet Club Parkside and Stanningley go back a long way. A sizeable attendance is certain for what should be an entertaining Leeds ‘derby’ and although the home side will, as a top-flight NCL side, be firm favourites against the Division One outfit, form could go out of the window on the day. Hunslet enjoyed a comfortable win at Featherstone Lions in the first round, while Stanningley ground out a narrow victory at Bentley, but Parkside secretary Paul Thorpe said: “We’re feeling good after the way we played at Featherstone but we know that Stanningley will be a different game. It’s a derby, there’ll be a big crowd and we’ll have players missing because of work commitments.” Stanningley chair Tom Bell said: “It will be a very tough game against one of the best sides in the amateur game currently. However, if we are to progress and develop as a team, these are the games to relish.

“We’ll be able to see where we are at as a team, having run them close a couple of times last year. Hunslet have kept a key core of players for a number of years and they play some excellent rugby, and this seems to be continuing looking at their round one result.

“We are continually investing in our youth and juniors to progress to the senior set up. We have an exciting young team that we are looking forward to watching develop over the next five to ten years. Our ultimate aim is to progress to the NCL’s Premier Division, but we know there is plenty of hard work to get there. The magic of the cup though is about the here and now and we are looking forward to next Saturday’s game.

“The club is really pleased with the senior coaching team (Ash Golding, Kevin Botwood, Simon Brier and Martyn Oxbury) who are all playing a part in developing the players and providing some exceptional coaching for the lads, to help them achieve personal and team goals. Next week is a chance for some of the players to shine; hopefully both teams can produce a cup classic.”

Thornhill Trojans, who have been elevated to the NCL’s Premier Division, are at Doncaster, who snatched a last-minute win in last season’s Challenge Cup clash between the sides. Trojans’ coach Danny Ratcliffe said: “We took them very close last time, and we’ll be doing our best to go one better this year. The fact remains, though, that they play at a different level to us, and we certainly won’t be able to take them by surprise on this occasion, although we have some new players this season. 

“We’ll be treating it as a normal game, focusing on strong defence above all – our attack can pretty much take care of itself. If we perform to the best of our ability we have a chance.”

Much of the attention on the tie between Leigh Miners Rangers and North Wales Crusaders is the fact that Crusaders coach Anthony Murray is not only a former Miner, but captained the Twist Lane men to the NCL title. It will be a welcome homecoming for one of the club’s most revered figures but Rangers’ coach Dave Rowland’s focus has to be on the game itself. “We’re under no illusions,” he said, “North Wales are a very good League 1 side, they had a massive year last year and have some players of real quality in their ranks. We have some very good young players coming through though, a few of whom have professional aspirations of their own. I’m sure they and their teammates will rise to the occasion and if we perform – and if North Wales have an off-day – we can pull off an upset.” 

NCL giants Siddal travel from Halifax to St Helens’ Pilkington Recs and official Joe McCormack said: “It’s a tough away draw against an NCL Premier Division team who play on an unfamiliar playing surface. We have trained well over the winter, under our new Head Coach Richard Knight, and are well prepared for the tie. We will look to defend well and take any chance that comes our way during the game, which should be a tight contest; the players are looking forward to the test that lies ahead.”

Rochdale Mayfield are at West Hull in another clash of NCL titans. Secretary Paul Scanlon-Wells told League Express, following his side’s impressive win over Wigan St Patricks: “It will be a tough game over there, for sure. But our lads are quite positive.”

Lock Lane have a stronger Challenge Cup record than most and illustrated that by accounting for NCL champions Thatto Heath Crusaders in last week’s opening round. That pedigree could be tested at League 1 side Oldham although the fact that the Roughyeds’ have been forced to set a kick-off time of Sunday night because their ground is unavailable at other slots has ruffled feathers Castleford way. The Lane’s chairman Mick Wildey said: “We are quite angry about being forced to play the game at 6pm on Sunday evening, even after offering four different times for when we could play, including hosting the game ourselves.

“We feel that no consideration has been given to our players. Most of them work shifts, which they’ve had to rearrange, and the lads that don’t have had to try and book days off at short notice. It’s not ideal preparation at all and I’m sure it will affect the team selection on the day.”

He continued: “We have qualified to play against professional sides many times and every match has been a great experience for everyone involved – players, coaches, committee, supporters. We have played our games and, whatever the outcome, we have been able to celebrate the achievement and have a good day.

“On this occasion, though, it’s going to be a case of ‘play the game with hardly any crowd, then back on the bus and home’. It’s really spoilt the occasion for the players and, in a way, undermined what the Challenge Cup is about for amateur teams.

“But after last week’s victory against Thatto the mood is good, and the players that are available will be up for the challenge. I’m certain they will give a good amount of themselves.”

The game will be streamed live on ‘Our League’ while high viewing figures can also be expected for the previous day’s tie between the British Army and the Royal Navy at Aldershot (2.00pm) which is being broadcast by The Sportsman.

Full Challenge Cup second-round schedule:
York Acorn v Wests Warriors (Saturday 29th, 1.30pm)
West Hull v Rochdale Mayfield (Saturday 29th, 1.30pm)
British Army v Royal Navy (Saturday 29th, 2pm, The Sportsman)
Hunslet Club Parkside v Stanningley (Saturday 29th, 2pm)
Pilkington Recs v Siddal (Saturday 29th, 2.30pm)
Leigh Miners Rangers v North Wales Crusaders (Saturday 29th, 2.30pm)
London Skolars v London Chargers (Saturday 29th, 3.30pm)
Rochdale Hornets v Midlands Hurricanes (Sunday 30th, 1pm, BBC)
Doncaster v Thornhill Trojans (Sunday 30th, 3pm)
Hunslet v Keighley Cougars (Sunday 30th, 3pm)
West Wales Raiders v Swinton Lions (Sunday 30th, 3pm)
Oldham v Lock Lane (Sunday 30th, 6pm, Our League)

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