The second round of Rugby League’s oldest and most prestigious competition, the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup kicks off this weekend – Saturday February 14 – when 20 clubs including Leigh Miners Rangers battle it out on their way to Wembley.
Ten second round ties involving clubs from the community game, one club from the Armed Forces and the British Police team will continue the trail into the third round, in which teams from the Kingstone Press League 1 will enter the competition.
This year’s final – Saturday August 29 – is played 120 years to the day since Rugby League was founded at a meeting at the George Hotel in Huddersfield, in 1895.
Two of the big hitters from the Premier Division of the Kingstone Press Cider National Conference League will meet in Cumbria when Wath Brow Hornets take on Lock Lane.
Wath Brow were knocked out of the cup last season by Kingstone Press League 1 side Keighley Cougars and the Cumbrian side have taken a lot of inspiration from that game.
“We have been fortunate to play some big names in the past like Keighley and Batley and it is a fantastic day, I have a lot of fond memories,” said coach Ian Rooney. “We love being involved in the Challenge Cup and it would be nice to progress and have our moment in the headlines.”
Meanwhile Lock Lane coach Paul Couch admits: “It would mean a lot to us to get through and have that test against semi-professional opposition.”
There will also be another huge battle in Cumbria on Saturday as Kells take on Blackbrook, teams that were both promoted to Division One and Two of the National Conference League this season respectively.
“We lost out to Batley in the third round last year,” said Kells coach Peter Smith. “They were bigger than us and that took its toll in the second half but we caused them a few problems in the first half and John Kear was kind enough to come up to me after the game and compliment the team.
“We have a proud history in the cup and we are aiming to keep that going and hopefully play against some big names as we have in the past. “
Blackbrook have produced Challenge Cup winners such as Paul Wellens and James Roby and coach Mike Parkes believes that winning the cup is the biggest accolade in Rugby League.
“We got through to the third round in 2013 and were only just beaten by York City Knights, it was a fantastic day and such a great experience for the lads,” said Parkes.
“It’s the biggest competition to any Rugby League player, it’s massive and the reason we enter is to get as far as we can in the tournament.”
National Conference League Premier League Leaders’ Shield, Grand Final and Conference Challenge Trophy winners West Hull will take on Hunslet Warriors, who last year stumbled at the first hurdle and will be keen to make amends.
Barrow-based Walney Central have been drawn away to Leigh Miners Rangers, who were reinstated into the cup after the disqualification of Hull Dockers. The same can be said of Great Britain Police who will now face Widnes West Bank after Rochdale Mayfield were also expelled from the competition.
Elsewhere, Hull side Skirlaugh will take on the only remaining Armed Forces side, the Royal Navy and both teams will be keen to progress to the third round after being knocked out at the first hurdle last year.
Royal Navy coach Steve Lockton says his team are feeling confident ahead of the clash: “We are feeling really strong at the moment, the support of all the units and the establishment of the Navy has been fantastic, we are really growing Rugby League in the Forces. We’ve got lads travelling from all over the country, from Scotland to Plymouth for this one game, it’s really exciting.”
Skirlaugh coach Colin Brown knows exactly what to expect from the Armed Forces side: “We played the Navy about two years ago and they are everything you would expect from Armed Forces lads, they were a big outfit with a strong mentality, it will be a really tough game.”
After being promoted to Division One of the National Conference League, Elland will be looking to go far in the Challenge Cup, after last featuring in 2012. Their opponents Egremont Rangers made it through to the third round last year but were beaten 24-42 by League 1 team Oldham.
Elland also have the vast experience of head coach Karl Fairbank, who featured for Bradford Bulls in the Challenge Cup Final in 1996 against St Helens.
“It would be massive for the club to get through to the third round, not just financially but also for the lads, for some of them it will be the biggest game they ever play in,” said Fairbank.
“I was fortunate to have played in a Challenge Cup Final as a player. There is something different about the Challenge Cup, as a player it’s all you play for and it’s still really special to be a part of it now.”
Conference League South Grand Final winners Valley Cougars will take on Oulton Raiders, who secured promotion to the top-flight of the National Conference League last season.
There will also be a big local derby in West Yorkshire, when Normanton Knights take on Shaw Cross, who finished fourth and fifth in Division One of the National Conference League last season respectively.
Normanton made it through to the third round of the cup last year and were knocked out by Championship side Workington Town.
“It would mean so much to the lads to get through, they had a taste of that higher level last season and they’re hungry for more. We want to repeat that success and if possible do better, we are always looking to improve,” said coach Paul Seal.
Shaw Cross coach Brett Turner hopes that his team can get one over on their close fought rivals.
“It’s going to be a fantastic game, we’ve built up a massive rivalry with them,” said Turner. “They beat us in the Grand Final two years ago with a drop goal in the last two minutes. We both got promoted and then we beat them in both games last season, that might give us the mental edge but we won’t be taking that for granted.
“We have some Aussie lads playing for us this year and they didn’t realise we had the chance to play in the Challenge Cup, they understand how big of a competition this is, it’s recognised worldwide.”
Featherstone Lions, who stormed up to Division Two last season under coach and former Super League player Jamie Rooney battle it out with Siddal, who were knocked out in the second round of the cup last season.
Tickets for the 2015 Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday August 29 cost from as little as £20 and can be purchased by calling the RFL Ticket Office on 0844 856 1113 or by visiting www.rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk.
The full schedule of Ladbrokes Challenge Cup second round ties is as follows:
Saturday February 14 – all games 2.00pm kick-off unless stated
Hunslet Warriors v West Hull
Wath Brow Hornets v Lock Lane
Leigh Miners Rangers v Walney Central
Kells v Blackbrook
Elland v Egremont Rangers
Oulton Raiders v Valley Cougars
Widnes West Bank v Great Britain Police
Siddal v Featherstone Lions (1.30pm)
Normanton Knights v Shaw Cross
Skirlaugh v Royal Navy (1.00pm)