On the face of it, the mission sounds simple for the UK Armed Forces RL side - retain the Presidents Cup. In reality, it poses a challenge for Head Coach Danny Johnson and his squad as there is the prospect of rejuvenated Teachers and Police sides combined with the threat posed by England Universities.
"Historically, this competition has been between ourselves and the students," Johnson explained, "but I noticed on social media that the Police had a training camp, so they have been upping their game, and I've seen some of the stuff that the Teachers have been doing, so it looks a strong competition.
"I'll be portraying this to the lads in camp - let's not rest on our laurels, we are going to have to turn up for every game.
"Over the years the scorelines might have looked a bit different but I think in the last two competitions that I've been involved in, we've taken some major casualties against the Teachers and the Police, they are always tough opposition.
"One of the strengths that ourselves and the students have had has been the physical side, the stamina for the last twenty minutes of the game, but from what I've seen from distance, everyone has been preparing well."
Speaking of his own squad Johnson added, "Since our enforced break I feel that I am really fortunate, I feel we are in a stronger position. In particular, the Navy seems to have recruited really well and massively enhanced their squad with some really bright young players, and seeing their performances in the Challenge Cup this year, it's really enhanced the squad. I've got a nice blend of experienced people who have played with us for a while and some really good up-and-coming youngsters. I'm really hoping it will put a bit of intensity in the camp, add a little bit of competition for places and I think that will only serve us well."
"I have the luxury of selecting from three single service sides - the navy, the army, and the air force who in their own right are fabulously set up with great coaches throughout and fit, strong, good men. I'm selecting from a bank of about sixty players that are playing regularly for their service side.
"I'm in a great position, given by the United Kingdom Armed Forces, full autonomy to select the side how I see fit. I do that on a merit basis and try and pick the players that are in form."
"Look out for our captain Ben Taylor. He's not really an elder statesman but he's played since being a young guy so he's got a real good pedigree. He captains the navy at the minute and he's played for seven years for the armed forces. You'll certainly hear from Kev Brown. During our last fixture against the Students before covid, he was really instrumental in keeping us together when they went at us in the second half."
The tournament will see game days at Saddleworth (30th March), Lock Lane (27th April) and Leigh Miners (25th May) and this is something the Armed Forces are relishing.
"I absolutely love it. I've been based down in Portsmouth for the last twenty years so to go back and play these games in the heartlands is fantastic." Danny enthused. "A couple of years ago we played at Wigan St Judes and there must have been a thousand people there, and as the armed forces, we always seem to get a bit of extra support. The fans seem to get around us and there is a little bit of respect there from the public, which is lovely to receive."
"We are most definitely up for the competition. I don't know if the RFL agree but I'm saying we are still the holders as we were the last ones to win it and I want to retain the trophy. It's one thing winning it, and we worked hard for it. Retaining it is another thing - that's going to be our focus."
Full details of the men's tournament are:
30th March – Saddleworth Rangers
- 6.00pm - UK Armed Forces v GB Police
- 8.00pm – GB Teachers v England Universities
27th April – Lock Lane
- 6.00pm – England Universities v GB Police
- 8.00pm – GB Teachers v UK Armed Forces
25th May – Leigh Miners
- 6.00pm – GB Police v GB Teachers
- 8.00pm – UK Armed Forces v England Universities