There is something special about the Carnegie Challenge Cup. Every year the 115 year old knock out competition seems to conjure up a magical giant killing act, or a case of divided loyalties as many fans keep one eye on their local amateur teams progress and the other on their bigger pro team.
Even players are sometimes faced with such a dilemma, like Harlequins' Rob Purdham for instance - this weekends Challenge Cup sees his beloved Cumbrian boyhood team Egremont Rangers take on Championship 1 team London Skolars, whom Purdham has helped develop during his time in the 'Big Smoke' over the last 11 years.
However, in a typically Challenge Cup-esque twist of fate, one rugby player has found himself stuck right in the middle. 20 year old Matty Garside is currently halfway through a Sports Coaching degree with a scholarship to play rugby league at Northumbria University, and he is also contracted to Championship new boys York City Knights for the 2011 season, and the Knights opening game in this year's Challenge Cup is against none other than Northumbria University!
"Yes definitely a strange one for me at the weekend," Garside mused. "I study at Northumbria and also captain the side up there, but I wasn't shocked when I heard the draw though really, I had a funny feeling it would happen!"
The explosive centre missed York's home win over Keighley last weekend, however he hopes to be fit to play: "I had a sore back for a fair bit of the pre-season, and seems to have got worse since training with the squad last Thursday and as a result i didnt play on Sunday. Hopefully I'll be fit to play this weekend though, back dependant I believe I will play for York."
Garside is of course in the unique position of being able to see just how both teams are preparing for the Round 3 clash: "Northumbria have definitely had a strong season, and done things the Uni side have never done before, obviously getting into the 3rd round of the Challenge Cup, but also beating Loughborough at their spot and playing live on Sky TV. It's been a real good year for the boys, alot of them have developed as players because of this, and we have plenty of fun along the way too."
He said: "Northumbria Uni have actually lost to Newcastle this afternoon [Wednesday] which isn't ideal. It was not a nice loss as we stood above them in a higher league, but Newcastle came from behind as we picked up a few injuries to a few key players. I'm sure all the boys are already preparing mentally, as for many of them this is the biggest highlight of their career so far, they will travel down to York real excited and just wanting to play some good rugby against professional opposition."
"York on the other hand are preparing for the weekends game very much like any other of the previous games we've prepared for so far this year, we need to respect the Uni boys and build up pressure then the scoreboard will look after itself. Hopefully we can reach the next round of the Challenge Cup off the back of a good performance and high on confidence."
Garside is also a current GB Students International, and one of a growing number of Student Rugby League (SRL) players to emerge in the pro game: "I played for GB Students against Australia last year, it was a brilliant experence for myself, and a good environment to be in. Losing twice to them wasnt the way we had planned, but going close both times was encouraging. To play for your country is something every player wants to do, so it was definitely a great feeling to put the strip on and play my part in both games.
"I definitely believe SRL is continuously growing and developing as a whole across the country, and in turn offering a lot of good young players to the pro game. I can definitely say SRL in the North East region is at its strongest it has ever been, with 4 or 5 boys now in the Gateshead Thunder squad."
As for Matty's aspirations for the 2011 season he is only looking up: "It's so far so good at the Knights, we are really enjoying everything we are doing at the minute. It's a great bunch of boys to train and play with, and the coaching staff are SuperLeague quality in a part time environment." He said: "I'm definitely looking ahead to a strong season. As a player I just want to work hard in training and put my hand up for a place in the squad week in week out. As asquad we know what we are capable of and we need to show this to everyone else, and im confident we can do this, starting with Northumbria on Sunday."
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