All roads lead to Wembley this weekend when Rugby League’s oldest and most prestigious knockout competition, the Tetley’s Challenge Cup, kicks off with 22 first round ties.
A total of 44 clubs from all parts of the country enter the fray dreaming of completing a journey which ends with a visit to the Royal Box at Wembley Stadium on Saturday August 23.
The club which will spend the most time on the road in the first round is Barrow-based Walney Central, who have raised over £1,500 to fund their 650-mile-round trip to face the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.
“The boys have been superb,” said Walney coach Gary Broadbent. “The players chipped in for some scratch cards to sell where they work and it has been a huge success, the money that has been raised is testament to their commitment.
“Our preparations have been majorly disrupted by flooding in our local area, but despite our bad fortune I have genuine faith that my players can go out there and come back with a win – I know my players have what it takes.”
Walney will be greeted by the enthusiasm of the Royal Navy, whose team will be full of servicemen, fresh from active service abroad.
“Everybody looks forward to this prestigious competition,” said Royal Navy spokesman Keith Humpleby. “It is an honour to be invited by the RFL to participate in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup. All the players want to be in the next round, so we will do everything we can to get there.”
Motorway miles will not be a problem for Normanton Knights, who make the short trip to Castleford to face local rivals Lock Lane.
“These matches are always intense,” said Normanton player-coach Paul Seal. “Supporters have been approaching me all week telling me just how much they are looking forward to the game. They believe that we can win and I think that we can do them proud and put in a worthy performance.
“They are a team full of talent and a couple of leagues above us, so they rightly go into the match as favourites but we have been working very hard and all of the players are very motivated to get a result.”
Paul Crouch is looking forward to the challenge of a derby in just his second game in charge of Lock Lane, after taking the post following 20 years of service to the club.
“Working with this fantastic club throughout my career has been amazing,” said Crouch. “The players have reacted brilliantly to me taking over and with any luck it will continue to be a long and fruitful partnership.
“Lock Lane has a rich history in this competition and it is something which everyone in and around the team is excited about and wants to perform in.”
Bristol Sonics forward and former Hull Kingston Rovers Academy player Wes Rodgers has been coaxed out of retirement by the temptation of a tie against his first community club side, Hull Dockers.
“As soon as the balls came out of the bag and I saw we’d been draw away at Hull Dockers, I decided I would make myself available to play one last time – it was just too tempting,” said Rodgers, who retired at the end of 2013 but now wants to help his side to a first-ever Tetley’s Challenge Cup victory.
“I still have loads of friends up in East Hull, and the Dockers are a great club. I know they’ll make us all very welcome – their hospitality is legendary.”
Great Britain Police will have their first outing since the Police World Cup, which was played during the Festival of World Cups during the summer of 2013, and GB Police player Adam Newton believe his side can bring the benefits from the tournament into the Challenge Cup when they take on Loughborough University.
“The World Cup was a fantastic experience for us,” said Newton. “Just being together as a squad was excellent and we’ll be looking to kick on from that.
“It also gives the lads who couldn’t play in the World Cup an opportunity to show what they can do. They will have lots to prove so that will help.”
The Tetley’s Challenge Cup first round is being played right across the country on Saturday 1 February and Sunday 2 February and includes fixture Pilkington Recs of St Helens against Scottish champions Aberdeen Warriors, the RAF v Dewsbury Celtic, Askam v The British Army and South West London Chargers v Welsh champions Torfaen Tigers.
Tickets for the 2014 Tetley’s Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday August 23 cost from as little as £22 and can be purchased by calling the RFL Ticket Office on 0844 856 1113 or by visiting www.rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk.
The Tetley's Challenge Cup first round fixtures in full are as follows: Saturday February 1 Royal Navy RL v Walney Central (1.00, at Burnaby Road, Portsmouth) Myton Warriors v East Hull (1.30) Oulton Raiders v West Hull (1.30) Askham v Army RL (2.00) Blackbrook v Egremont Rangers (2.00) Castleford Lock Lane v Normanton Knights (2.00) Leeds Metropolitan University v Millom (2.00, at Milford) Pilkington Recs v Aberdeen Warriors (2.00) RAF v Dewsbury Celtic (2.00, at RAF Cranwell) Shaw Cross Sharks v Thatto Heath Crusaders (2.00) Skirlaugh v Rochdale Mayfield (2.00) South West Chargers v Torfaen Tigers (2.00, at Chiswick Rugby Club) Underbank Rangers v East Leeds (2.00) Widnes St Maries v Wigan St Patricks (2.00) Woolston Rovers v Elland (2.00, at Monk Sports Club) Kells v Wigan St Judes (2.30) Leigh Miners v Hunslet Warriors (2.30) Saddleworth Rangers v Milford Marlins (2.30) Wath Brow Hornets v Halton Simms Cross (2.30) York Acorn v Siddal (2.00) Hull Dockers v Bristol Sonics (2.00) Sunday February 2 Loughborough University v GB Police (2.00, at Holywell Pitch 1, Loughborough Uni)