AS Oldham RLFC looks forward to Thursday’s draw for the first two rounds of the Betfred Challenge Cup – and a scheduled return to action in the prestigious knock-out competition on March 21 – it is interesting to look back at how Roughyeds have fared in the Challenge Cup in the past 20 years.
Unlike this year, when community clubs and most Betfred League 1 clubs are not included because of the need to have a smaller competition because of Covid, Oldham have played amateur opposition 19 times since season 2000 and have won the lot, including a 34-10 victory against Saddleworth Rangers on a snow-covered Boundary Park pitch in 2006.
Two years later they travelled to Aldershot to play The Army, winning 56-10 in a match which will be remembered for the outstanding performance of The Army’s winger Ben Seru, a Fijian who soon afterwards signed for Oldham only to suffer a career-ending knee injury on his professional debut at Wakefield Trinity in the 2008 quarter-final.
The progress to the quarter-final that year, in which Roughyeds followed up their win at Aldershot by winning at Swinton Lions in round four and at Dewsbury Rams in round five, was one of the local club’s Challenge Cup highlights in recent times.
Oldham were hit hard by the early Seru injury and went down 46-14 at Belle Vue, watched by a large contingent of travelling fans, who enjoyed their side’s appearance in the last eight.
The team on that memorable occasion lined up like this: Paul O’Connor; Ben Seru, Marcus St Hilaire, Mick Nanyn, Lucas Onyango; Neil Roden, James Coyle; Jason Boults, Simeon Hoyle, Richard Mervill, Tommy Goulden, Rob Roberts, Phil Joseph. Subs, Matty Brooks, Adam Robinson, Simon Baldwin, Said Tamghart.
Other memorable Challenge Cup wins were a 17-6 home victory against Hull KR in 2001; a 60-30 home win against French club Lezignan in 2009; and a 27-6 success at Halifax in 2018.
But nothing could compare to the 2016 fifth-round win at Hull KR when Roughyeds, then finding it tough going as a first-time Championship side, took on a Super League outfit on Humberside and stunned the previous year’s beaten Wembley finalists - to say nothing of the entire sport - by winning 36-22 with a performance that will be etched in the memory of the many fans who made the trip.
Full-back Richard Lepori scored two of the Roughyeds’ six tries with others added by Will Hope, Steve Roper, Adam Clay and Gary Middlehurst, with Lewis Palfrey kicking six goals from seven shots.
The team was: Richard Lepori; Adam Clay, Sam Gee, Danny Grimshaw, Jamel Chisholm; Lewis Palfrey (capt), Steve Roper; Phil Joy, Gareth Owen, Jack Spencer, Gary Middlehurst, Danny Langtree, Will Hope. Subs, Michel Ward, Kenny Hughes, Adam Files, Liam Thompson.
In the next round they were drawn at home to Warrington Wolves and went down 70-10 as the powerful Wolves went on to lose narrowly to Hull FC in the final at Wembley, followed by a similar fate against Wigan Warriors in the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.
This year, due to Covid, the first and second rounds of the Betfred Challenge Cup are also doubling-up as early rounds of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup and the four teams still remaining in the Challenge Cup after the first two rounds (Super League clubs come in at round three) will also be 1895 Cup semi-finalists with two chances of reaching Wembley.
The 16 teams going into Thursday’s Challenge Cup draw are as follows: Barrow Raiders, Batley Bulldogs, Bradford Bulls, Dewsbury Rams, Featherstone Rovers, Halifax, Keighley Cougars, London Broncos, Newcastle Thunder, OLDHAM, Sheffield Eagles, Swinton Lions, Whitehaven, Widnes Vikings, York City Knights, West Wales Raiders.