You may have noticed something different looking at the Toronto Wolfpack schedule this week. On Friday they are slated to take on Kells ARLFC in round 4 of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. You may be asking yourself a few questions. First, what is the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup? Second, what happened to rounds 1 through 3? Or perhaps you weren’t. Lucky for you though I like hearing my own voice (reading my own voice) so I’m gonna tell you anyways.
The Challenge Cup (currently sponsored by Ladbrokes) is a rugby league tournament that consists of both amateur and professional teams. The first Challenge Cup tournament was held in 1896 and has been contest annually since (with the exception of a few war years). Since 1945 the final has been held at the famous Wembley Stadium. The Wigan Warriors are the tournaments most decorated club having won an astounding 19 Challenge Cups. Their biggest reign of terror came between 1988 and 1996 where they took home 8 consecutive Challenge Cups. Currently, Hull FC I looking to become the first team to win 3 Challenge Cups in a row since St. Helens did so from 2006-2008.
The thing that makes the Challenge Cup unique is the format. The format is a single elimination tournament, but teams enter the tournament at different times. In layman’s terms, the Challenge Cup is a mix between March Madness and the Royal Rumble.
Round 1 of the tournament starts with 40 amateur teams from within the RFL and BARLA (British Amateur Rugby League Association). These teams include military teams, university teams, and local regional club champions. In round 2 the 20 winners from round 1 play and we are left with 10 teams. Round 3 (24 teams) is where the pros start to come in. All 14 League 1 teams join the 10 amateur winners. In round 4 (24 teams) the Toronto Wolfpack and the rest of the Championship enter to take on the 12 round 3 winners. Round 5 (16 teams) sees the bottom 4 Super League teams enter the tournament. They join the 12 victors from round 4 (16 teams). Round 6 (16 teams) features the 8 remaining Super League teams join the 8 round 5 victors. At the conclusion of round 6, the 8 teams left standing fall into a standard quarter-final, semi-final, final playoff. Essentially, the better your team is, the later you get to enter the tournament.
As a Championship team the Toronto Wolfpack will be entering the Challenge Cup in their round 4 match-up with Kells ARLFC this weekend. Kells has had a great showing so far in the Challenge Cup. They defeated the British Police 40-8 in round 1. They had a tight 8-6 victory over Orrell St. James in round 2. In round 3 they avoided a drawing a League 1 team and beat the British Army 30-4. So here we have an amateur team going up against the Toronto Wolfpack, a club known for having deep pockets. Kells is coming off a 20-20 draw to Myton Warriors in their opening match of the National Conference Premier League competition. By all accounts, the Wolfpack should slaughter Kells this Friday. However, that is part of the appeal to the Challenge Cup. The chance that the small amateur underdog could upend a juggernaut.
The Wolfpack have yet to announce their line-up for the match. It is unclear whether hooker Bob Beswick will play after injuring his knee against Sheffield last weekend. Wolfpack fans may also want to tune in for the chance to see new fullback Gaz O’Brien make his Wolfpack debut. O’Brien was part of the Salford Red Devils squad the eliminated the Wolfpack in round 5 of last year’s Challenge Cup.