UpFront: Challenge Cup delivers thrills and shocks

Army & Navy stores might have disappeared from UK high streets, but the two names will have a prominent place in the second round of Rugby League’s Challenge Cup at the end of this month.

That’s because the rival services sides will square up to each other on the weekend of January 29/30 after claiming notable victories in the opening stage of the famous old competition.

It was great to see the return of amateur teams after the pandemic ruled out their participation in 2021 and the 14 ties generated plenty of positive publicity for the game, along with some notable talking points.

The Army, having won at Orrell St James in a contest which provided plenty of entertainment for those watching via the BBC Sport website, will host The Navy in one of twelve round-two clashes.

The Navy comfortably ended the hopes of Welsh entrants Bridgend Blue Bulls (Scotland’s Edinburgh Eagles and Ireland’s Galway Tribesmen, whose ferry docked at 2am on Saturday, when they faced Pilkington Recs in St Helens, also went out at the first hurdle, as did the RAF and Great Britain Police).

But they face a tougher test against The Army, who memorably made it to the fourth round in 2020, beating Oulton Raiders, Skirlaugh and Ince Rose Bridge before losing at Rochdale Hornets.

Rochdale will have a double interest in the second round, since community side Mayfield went through by beating Wigan St Patricks, coached by six-time Challenge Cup winner Andy Gregory, in a game streamed live on The Sportsman website.

Meanwhile Hornets, who are marking the 100th anniversary of their sole success in the competition (they beat Hull in the 1922 final at Headingley) host Midlands Hurricanes in a tie selected for BBC Sport coverage.

London will have a triple interest – and that’s before the entry of the Broncos, who will come in alongside their 13 Championship rivals at the fourth-round stage.

London Skolars have a derby showdown against London Chargers, who ensured Ellenborough Rangers made the long trip back to Cumbria on the back of a 22-16 defeat.

The Cumberland ARL champions, who made the 660-mile round trip to Chiswick on the day, were dramatically beaten in the last play of the match for a result that, along with Wests Warriors’ win at Jarrow Vikings (a 565-mile round trip), shows the strength of the community game in the capital.

Wests now face another trip, this time to York Acorn, while Lock Lane’s reward for beating National Conference League champions Thatto Heath is a visit to three-times Challenge Cup winners Oldham.

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