Fans have been treated to the first real indication that the new season is not far away, with the first round draw for the Challenge Cup.
The draw provided the information that 52 potentially giant killing sides were waiting for, as they learned whom their teams would be up against. The opening round of the Challenge Cup is always something of a lottery, and perhaps that is appropriate for the thousands of league fans who have been killing time with games like Sizzling Hot Deluxe waiting impatiently for the new year and the new season. The Champions Cup draw provided a welcome bonus in a different respect, with some tantalising match ups.
New kids Red Star Belgrade take on Millom
Let’s start with the biggest headline of all. Red Star Belgrade are the Serbian champions of rugby league and will be participating in the Champions Cup for the first time this year. They showed just how seriously they are taking this by being one of several clubs to attend the draw in person, and there is an interesting symmetry in the fact that this new team on the Champions Cup scene has been drawn to play Millom, the oldest amateur rugby league club in the world.
Both teams are historic in their own way. While it does not go back to the 19th century like Millom, Red Star has survived against the odds through Serbia’s turbulent political times over the past decades.
The three military sides that traditionally participate in the Challenge Cup always attract attention, and their draws were watched with anticipation. The Royal Navy have benefited from a home draw, but it will be a challenging one as they play host to this year’s winners of the British Amateur Rugby League Association Cup, West Hull.
The Army will take on Bentley, while the Royal Air Force have a short journey up the road to play local rivals North Herts Crusaders.
The luck of the Irish?
Castleford Lock Lane is a familiar name in the Challenge Cup and a club that often performs well in this competition. They will be champing at the bit to take on a travel weary Longhorns who have to make the long journey from Ireland.
Lock will go into the game as hot favourites, but Longhorns coach Casey Dunne believes his team to be capable of an upset.
He said: “As it is our second year in the Challenge Cup we are looking to set a target for ourselves, and that target is to get a win in our first game.
“It really doesn’t matter who we get we just need to turn up with the right attitude and get the job done.”