9th January 2020, 15:57 | ChallengeCup
For the first time in the competition’s history, the Coral Challenge Cup will play host to four Welsh sides in 2020.
Semi-professional sides North Wales Crusaders and West Wales Raiders will join in Round Three but Round One will involve Southern Conference League’s Torfaen Tigers and Challenge Cup debutants Rhondda Outlaws.
The Outlaws 34-22 victory over Bridgend Blue Bulls back in August saw them win the 17th Welsh Grand Final and book their place in the Challenge Cup for the first time in the club’s short history.
It has been a rapid rise for Rhondda who founded an open age side in 2017 with the help of Chairman and Head Coach James Allen and General Manager Steven Bartlett.
Allen said: “It was a massive achievement for the club to win the Welsh title in just our third season.
“The first season we won just one game and were on the end of a number of hammerings, we improved slightly in the second season but to then go on and lose just one game in 2019 was a huge achievement.
“And now we get to compete in the Challenge Cup and, if I’m honest, I don’t think it has hit home for some of the boys yet. I don’t think the occasion will really sink in for them until they take to the field at Barrow this weekend.
“Personally, myself and our General Manager who is from Leeds, have a good knowledge of how important the competition is and the history behind it, so it is down to us to convey that to the lads this week.”
We wanted to do a 'beginning of decade/end of decade' tweet showing how far we've come in the last 10 years but unfortunately we only formed in 2015. We hope you'll settle for just an 'end of decade' picture of us as Welsh Champions.— Rhondda Outlaws RL (@Rhonddaoutlaws) December 30, 2019
Hwy Clod Na Golud pic.twitter.com/G3r2LRIV7i
Allen previously played for fellow Welsh side Valley Cougars – who have competed on several occasions in the Challenge Cup – and with four Welsh sides now in the tournament he feels it is proof the game is growing West of the border.
“It shows we are improving and growing every year with having so many teams in this year’s Challenge Cup.
“As a sport, we are definitely in a good place in South Wales. We have our own facility now with a clubhouse and pitches, so I think we’re leading the way in terms of amateur sides in South Wales.
“We’ve already brought through a number of players who had barely played Rugby League before joining the club.
“Some of our most inexperienced players had only played three or four games of Rugby League before joining the club and I’d be surprised if our more experienced players – who’ve played elsewhere previously – have played more than 100 games.
“The majority of our side is relatively new to Rugby League which makes me so proud of what we’ve already accomplished. It’s my biggest achievement in Rugby League.
Rhondda’s Challenge Cup bow will see them make a 580-mile round trip up to Cumbria to take on Barrow Island, who themselves are featuring in the competition for the first time since 2005.
“It’s a very long way to go but that’s what you get in the Challenge Cup and that’s what makes it so special that we get the chance to compete against a side we’d never usually face.
“We’ve asked the lads to travel up in their cars the night before at whatever time they need to, so they don’t have to take time off work. Hopefully they’ll all still get a good rest the night before and we’ll be as prepared as possible for the game.
“I’m expecting a lot of physicality from Barrow Island. I’ve been doing my homework on Youtube since the draw and they like to play fast-paced Rugby League with some big boys in the middle.”
🏆 CUP | @Rhonddaoutlaws are the first of the #WalesRL clubs to name their side for @TheChallengeCup— Wales Rugby League 🏴 (@WalesRugbyL) January 9, 2020
CWPAN | Mae Outlaws wedi enwi eu tîm ar gyfer y Gwpan Sialans.
After facing @BarrowIslandARL on Saturday they'll go to @Mayfieldrl to watch @GBpoliceRL v @TorfaenTigersRL Sunday pic.twitter.com/rjaPqwWc24
A victory against the National Conference League Division Two side would be the ‘icing on the cake’ for Rhondda’s rise in recent years, however Allen isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“I can’t even let myself think about potentially winning yet. If we could get through and get a home tie in Round Two that would be absolutely amazing.
“It would be just reward for our General Manager Steven Bartlett who has done so much for the club. As someone who is Rugby League mad being from Leeds, he’d know more than anyone what it means to progress in this historic competition.
“Also, Clive Batchelor, who was our Chairman until he sadly passed away last year, would be so proud of the lads and how far they have come.
“The progression from this team in just three years is what I would have only expected in ten or maybe longer. If we can continue to progress in a similar fashion over the next seven or eight years who knows where we could be.
“We’d love to be competing in the Challenge Cup every season and we have our opportunity to prove ourselves this weekend.”
Tickets for the 2020 Coral Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 18 July are available to purchase here.