UK Warship Hosts Rugby League Cup Draw
Helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious was the unique venue for the draw of the next round of Rugby League’s most famous competition. England’s Head Coach Steve McNamara flew aboard Lusty in the North Sea with the precious Carnegie Challenge Cup to pick the clashes in the second round of the contest – the stage at which Forces teams enter the fray.
This is the most coveted trophy in Rugby League, the Carnegie Challenge Cup – the sport’s equivalent of the FA Cup – being delivered by an RAF Search and Rescue helicopter from RAF Boulmer to HMS Illustrious off the East Coast of England.
The reason? The helicopter carrier was the unusual venue for the draw for the second round of the competition – the point at which all three Armed Forces enter the fray alongside 14 National Conference League Premier Division clubs and the 11 teams who have negotiated the preliminary and first rounds of the competition.
The draw was carried out in Lusty’s cavernous hangar by England Head Coach Steve McNamara and Captain Martin Connell, Commanding Officer of HMS Illustrious – watched by some eager League fans… and one player who was particularly interested in the outcome.
ET Mike Haldenby, 26, from Hull is one of the members of the Royal Navy Rugby League team currently serving in HMS Illustrious.
“As a player and fan of rugby league, to be able to watch the second round draw of this famous competition on board my ship and to meet Steve McNamara has been fantastic. It is an experience I will never forget,” he said.
Illustrious is currently conducting flying training in the North Sea with Jungly Sea Kings of 848 Naval Air Squadron operating alongside the fearsome Apache gunships of the Army Air Corps; one of the latter provided an imposing backdrop for the Challenge Cup draw.
That draw pitted the RN Seniors – known as the Brothers – against Leigh Miners Rangers with the tie to be played in Portsmouth on the weekend of March 11-12; the Navy bowed out of the competition at this stage last year. The Army were drawn away against Oulton Raiders and the RAF away against East Hull.
If any of the Service teams make it through to the third round they could be rewarded with a tie against a national championship side such as Sheffield Eagles. The Super League giants such as St Helens, Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors don’t weigh in until the fourth round.
The draw was a brief distraction for Lusty ahead of the winter exercises inside the Arctic Circle alongside HMS Bulwark, Liverpool and numerous NATO allies.
“It has been a pleasure to welcome Mr McNamara on board – and a personal privilege to have been involved in drawing the balls for the second round of this prestigious competition,” said Capt Connell.
As for the Challenge Cup, it’s actually a replica of the original 1897 trophy which was deemed too fragile to be presented any more. It is treated with as much reverence as the Victorian cup – when not locked in a secure cabinet it must be accompanied by at least one person (two if in a car), and if it’s out of its the current home in the trophy cabinet of Wigan Warriors overnight, someone has to sleep in the same room to guard.
Naval Today Staff , February 29, 2012; Image: royalnavy