The Betfred Challenge Cup returns in full this weekend as hopeful amateur and pro rugby league clubs from across the land dream of lifting the coveted trophy in front of a sold-out crowd.
This season’s competition sees the return of all teams for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic halted a full roster last term.
The Challenge Cup Final has also moved from its usual haunt of Wembley to North London’s state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 28 - you can buy tickets for the final here - and The Sportsman is delighted to bring you full, live and exclusive coverage of the opening round one fixture between Rochdale Mayfield and Wigan St Patricks on our brand new, dedicated rugby league YouTube channel as well as a live feed on TheSportsman.com.
Rochdale Mayfield, who host us at the Mayfield Sports Centre, are eager to better their 2020 run in the competition, which saw them impressively reach the third round, bowing out against a strong North Wales Crusaders side just before sport was halted due to Covid.
“It was a blow to miss last year's Challenge Cup,” Senior Committee Member, Ian Kershaw tells The Sportsman. “It's widely considered to be the game's premier competition. To be invited back in this season, after a challenging 12 months was a real boost to us. You couldn't ask for a better way to start a season. There is a real buzz around the club and the excitement is palpable.
“Having your club's game live streamed adds an extra dimension. Your players want to give their all every week but with live streaming, they all seem to give that little bit more. To be the first game of the season to be out there is brilliant to the club. It gives us the opportunity to show an international audience who we are and what we are about.”
When asked what the club’s ambitions for this season’s competition are, Mr. Kershaw explained, “It's difficult to articulate what our hopes for this year's competition are. With a home tie, we are definitely setting our sights on progressing, although we take nothing for granted. If we get through, the next round sees us away, most likely at West Hull. This would be a tough game, but again we would be going out to win and hope for a home tie in Round three. Maybe a pro club and a good payday to set us up for the season.”
At the opposite end of the field, we have Wigan St Patricks who like Rochdale Mayfield missed out on last year's competition and like Rochdale Mayfield will be wanting to better their run from 2020. St Pats progressed from round one before bowing out against West Hull in round two.
When asked what challenge Wigan St Patricks pose to Mayfield, who sit in the NCL Premier, Ian Kershaw explained: “They are an unknown quantity to us at the minute they were in the first division and then we didn't come up against them last season. We will not concern ourselves with what they've got etc. We'll let them worry about coming to face us on our home turf.
“This game has all the hallmarks of a classic old-school classic,” Mr. Kershaw continued. "Two teams, with a fantastic pedigree and the ability to play fast open rugby league. St Pats are coached by one of the all-time greats in Andy Gregory, and for our lads, it will be like playing against him and they won't want to lose this game. This is rugby league at its best. Two grassroots clubs giving their all for eighty minutes for nothing more than the pride in wearing their club's colours. This really is what rugby league is all about.”
Coverage of Rochdale Mayfield versus Wigan St Patricks will begin at 2pm, with kick-off at 2:15pm. Matt Horton will provide the commentary, with expert analysis from Andrew Henderson, the former Scotland hooker who has joined Keighley Cougars as Head of Rugby in 2022 following successful previous coaching stints with London Broncos, Warrington Wolves and as assistant to Tim Sheens with the Combined Nations All-Stars in 2021.