One of British sport’s most historic competitions returns to the South West this Saturday, as Bristol Sonics set out on “the road to Wembley” in the Carnegie Challenge Cup.
The Sonics, the South West’s premier Rugby League club, face experienced National Conference League 1 side Eccles at Clifton RFC on Saturday (K.O 2pm), with a place in the second qualifying round – and a juicy tie against Cumbrian heavyweights Askom or Millom – at stake.
The match marks the start of the year-long countdown to the Rugby League World Cup coming to Bristol. The Cook Islands will take on the USA at the Memorial Stadium at the end of October 2013, in the early stages of the first World tournament to take place in the UK since London 2012.
Bristol, who play two divisions below Eccles in National Conference League 3, will have to be at the top of their game to even get close to the Manchester-based side, who are renowned as one of the toughest teams in amateur Rugby League.
But Bristol Sonics captain Dom Swann believes the Sonics can cause an upset. He said: “Eccles will be the best side we’ve ever faced, and they’re arguably miles ahead of us at the moment. That said, our record against sides from Rugby League’s nothern ‘heartlands’ is improving every year. Our form in the latter half of the National Conference League 3 season was excellent, so I’m sure we can give them a very good game at the very least. If we did win, it would be our best result to date by some distance.”
The Sonics have appeared in the Challenge Cup once before, losing to Leeds Met Carnegie in the first round back in 2009 (pictured). In front of a record crowd for a Rugby League fixture in Bristol, the Sonics sensationally took the lead before wilting under sustained pressure in the second period. Despite losing heavily, it was one of the most memorable days in the club’s history.
Bristol’s second appearance in the competition comes just over a month after the club celebrated its tenth birthday. Bristol Sonics Chairman Phil Cole said: “The Challenge Cup is the competition that most people outside of Rugby League remember. The final takes place every year at Wembley and over the years has become one of the essential days out in the British sporting calendar. To have the Sonics take part in such a historic competition is brilliant for Rugby League in the South West, and of course for the club itself. I would urge anyone with a few hours to spare on Saturday afternoon to come down and cheer on the club – the lads will need all the support they can get.”
With the Sonics out of season, Head Coach Karl Fearnley will be without a number of first team regulars. However, he can call upon the cream of the South West’s student Rugby League players, many of whom turned out for the Sonics in the summer, and a number of returning ‘old faces’. He said: “We’re working hard to get out the most competitive side we can this weekend. The players see it as a unique opportunity to create a bit of history. We don’t get a chance to play good quality teams from up north very often, and this will be a chance to see how far we’ve come in recent years. We’ll have to be at the top of our game to get close, but our wins over Hemel and Bramley in the recent summer season shows that when we get it right, we’re a match for anyone.”
Bristol Sonics face Eccles in the First Qualifying Round of the Carnegie Challenge Cup at Clifton RFC, Cribbs Causeway, on Saturday 27th October 2012, kick off 2.00pm