Tomorrow’s round six Challenge Cup tie provides Toronto Wolfpack with their toughest opponent to date, as the Betfred Championship league leaders travel to Lancashire to take on Super League top four side Warrington Wolves. Ahead of the game we take a look at the prestige of rugby league’s most historical competition.
The clash of the Wolves is arguably the tie of the round, pitching the two form sides in the sport against each other in a winner takes all affair, with a place in the quarter finals at stake. It is the first time the Wolfpack have been involved at this stage.
Toronto come into the clash on the back of eleven straight wins, including two triumphs in the Cup over Kells ARLFC and Barrow Raiders, but face a high flying Warrington side who have won their last nine Super League outings in what will be a titanic battle at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
The cup is the longest running competition in rugby league. Currently in its 121st year, it has played host to some of the most remarkable matches in rugby league history in the UK.
The infamous Wembley Stadium turf has staged Wigan’s 1985 win over Hull FC, which is still regarded as the greatest cup final in history, and Sheffield’s victory over the Cherry and Whites in 1998 was an underdog fairy tale for the ages.
Warrington themselves have been a powerhouse of the competition in recent history. The Wire won the historic trophy three out of four years between 2009-2012 and became the kings of knock out rugby.
Despite their fledgling status in the sport, the magic of the Challenge Cup is certainly not lost on the Canadian outfit. Toronto are lucky to have a number of individuals involved with the club who have substantial experience in the cup and know the importance of putting a good run together in the competition.
Rich Whiting has tasted Challenge Cup victory back in 2005 with Hull FC, whereas Ashton Sims, Gareth O’Brien, James Laithwaite and newest recruit Matty Russell have all experienced the Wembley final in some capacity during their time with Warrington.
However, there are few who know the beauty of the Challenge Cup better than Toronto Director of Rugby Brian Noble MBE. As part of Noble’s long list of successes as coach of Bradford Bulls, he guided the Yorkshire club to cup glory in Cardiff in 2003 and spoke about the uniqueness and level of prestige it still has in the sport to this day. He said:
“It’s the first knock out competition in professional sport in the UK and it has a whole psyche of its own within the rugby league community over here.
“Growing up it was the iconic trophy to win and the trophy itself explains everything about the competition; the architecture is unbelievable.”
Noble has been involved in the sport for a long time and was quick to point out the ability of the Challenge Cup to provide a platform of life long memories in sporting history. He added:
“The iconic moments in rugby league up until about 1995 when Super League started, which provided another showpiece occasion in relation to the Grand Final, all came from the massive moments that were built around the Challenge Cup and it certainly still has that feel about it.
“In this competition everyone is looking for that upset and that big scalp. It’s in this competition that memorable moments like that can happen.”
Similar thoughts were echoed by Head Coach Paul Rowley, who himself boasts plenty of experience in the Cup as both a coach and a player. He said:
“The Challenge Cup to me as a player is special.
“In my era before the Grand Final even kicked in it was always the prestigious one to play for and it’s the magic of the cup that every player loves. It is the pinnacle of the sport because that heritage and history and the day out at Wembley is the dream.
“To be a part of that is fantastic and every year I’ve been involved in the Challenge Cup, either as a coach or a player. It’s the same message throughout the group that you only get one crack and there is no tomorrow.
“You don’t get many opportunities in this competition in your playing career so we need to make sure we make it count this week.”