ALL eyes will be on Wests Warriors when the draw takes place this evening (Tuesday 14 February) for the third round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
Wests, of the London Premier Division, pulled off a major shock in the second round with Saturday’s 26-0 win at Kingstone Press Cider National Conference League Division One outfit Featherstone Lions, and will go into the hat alongside eight other amateur teams (with West Hull and Thatto Heath due to try again this week after Saturday’s postponement) and 16 League 1 sides, including Toronto Wolfpack.
The Warriors’ victory at the Millpond surprised everyone outside Wests’ camp and manager Shun Tamura – a former Japanese international – told League Express: “It’s obviously the best result in our history since our coach, New Zealander Kim Parkinson, and I formed the club in 2014.
“Featherstone are two or three divisions higher than us in the league structure and think we took them by surprise a little, while we’d had an insight into what we’d be facing through having played Shaw Cross Sharks of the same division in a pre-season friendly a few weeks ago.
“That, though, was a friendly, and the Sharks fielded several lads who won’t perhaps first-teamers, so this was something else.”
Wests travelled north, after having beaten British Police in the first round, simply delighted to be meeting another team from the heartlands as part of their development, but a fine start boosted the Warriors’ prospects of progressing.
“We hit them with a couple of early tries and managed to build on that opening,” said Tamura. “They were a bigger side than us, and maybe we benefited from a couple of calls in our favour in the first half, but our smaller lads stood up to the challenge.
“It’s possible that Featherstone took us too lightly and paid the price, but our boys played pretty much to the game-plan we had set them.”
Tamura, who is the founder and chief executive of UK Tagby, the Sevens version of Tag Rugby that is aimed at boys and girls aged 8 to 16, sees the win as an achievement for the grassroots game in London as a whole, and not merely for his own Acton-based club, which is currently in talks to play at Wasps RUFC in 2017. He revealed: “This will definitely raise the profile of Rugby League in the capital. We’d said earlier in the year that we’d see how far we could go in the cup, and we’re now in the third round, with a possibility of meeting our neighbours London Skolars, or maybe Hemel Stags.
“It’s fantastic and it’s due reward for a group of players who are very closely knit.
“Our squad includes London lads, northern exiles and players from Australia and New Zealand, and even Ireland and France, with some coming from rugby union.
“One thing that helps our team spirit is that we’re like a band of brothers. Lads who arrive in London to work can find it a lonely place; joining a club such as ours offers them a social life, almost a family in fact, and that togetherness shone through in Saturday’s win.”
The draw for the third round, which will include Kingstone Press League 1 clubs, will be streamed live on the BBC Sport website from 7.00pm this evening at //www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-league
Third round ties will be played on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 February.