London Chargers welcome Ellenborough Rangers to the capital in a Betfred Challenge Cup First Round clash on Saturday, in what is set to be the London outfit’s 11th appearance in the competition.
Their former coach and Australian ex-Rugby League player, Mark Barnes, returns to the club ahead of a massive occasion and even with plenty of Challenge Cup experience in the bank, the novelty of participating in such an historic competition is not lost on the players, nor Chairman Craig Monteiro.
He said: “We’re excited to be a part of it, it’s huge. It’s a special tournament full of household names, the draw itself is always exciting too, it gives us the opportunity to meet new people from different clubs and places.
“We’ve had plenty of Aussies who have played for us, that have said they used to stay up until the early hours over there so they could tune in for the Challenge Cup. It really is massive.”
Monteiro also views the Chargers’ Challenge Cup pedigree as a key factor in bringing players to the club, stating: “You know, not many amateur clubs get to play in the Challenge Cup, it’s a massive draw for players.
“We have so many lads that want to step in and play for us, guys that travel from places like Hemel and Brighton. In 2021 we had over ninety players that had registered and represented us at some point in the season, with over forty players regularly available and I’d say we’re missing a lot of players for this weekend, but we still have over 30 lads willing to play.”
The number of players that the London Chargers manage to pull into the club means that they’re able to field teams in both the London Premier and the Southern Conference League, and it seems like the numbers will only rise.
Monteiro said: “We have links with Rutlish Raiders and Richmond Warriors, two local junior Rugby League clubs. We’ve been establishing a player pathway for them for the last few years now, and we’re finally beginning to see some players come through that route this year.”
Big numbers on the pitch, but there’s big numbers off it too. For their London Premier and SCL finals double-header last season, there was around 900 spectators in attendance across the two games in total. This was in addition to the 2000 viewers that tuned in for the livestream on Twitch, too.
For now, though, it’s all about Saturday. A victory in the Betfred Challenge Cup is always special, but on this occasion, a victory for the Chargers would set up a mouth-watering tie against Betfred League One outfit and neighbours London Skolars, who are based just minutes away from this year's Final venue - Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
On the potential all-London affair, Monteiro said: “We’ve always wanted to play them, they’re our local rivals and that would be huge.”
However, the Chargers aren’t getting ahead of themselves with Monteiro continuing: “We’re under no illusions. We’re expecting a really tough game. They’re similar to us in the sense of being a tight-knit, team full of mates. That stuff makes a difference. Ellenborough are taking it very seriously and they’ll be tough to overcome.
“I’ve never met a soft Cumbrian. We’re expecting a really physical match, but they’re a smart team as well. We’ve struggled with Cumbrian teams in the past in that sense, those teams that just know what to do in order to win at any cost. It’ll be so tough.”
It’s yet another Challenge Cup appearance for the London Chargers, perhaps with a little more on the line this time. A short trip to Skolars is in sight, and they’re prepared for a real battle on Saturday.
Tickets for the 2022 Betfred Challenge Cup Final on Saturday 28 May at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium are available to purchase here.
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