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London Powergen Challenge Cup
The world's oldest rugby league knockout competition, the Challenge Cup, dates back to 1897. This weekend brings the first round games of the 2005 Powergen Challenge Cup, with the undoubted highlight being the derby between South London Storm and West London Sharks.
The historic clash will be played on Saturday February 5 and the Storm have forsaken home advantage in an initiative aimed at further boosting the code in the capital.
Both Souths and Wests have agreed to stage the tie at London Skolars' North River Stadium as part of a "double header" with the Metro pre-season clash between the Skolars and London Broncos.
The Storm and the Sharks will kick off at 12.45, with the Broncos taking on the Skolars at 2.30pm. All other London clubs will also be present on what has been dubbed the "London Rugby League Launch Day."
The winners of the Challenge Cup game will be one step away from a tilt at professional opposition, but other sides from outside the traditional heartlands face a huge task in the bid to progress.
Essex Eels, still in pre-season mode, will view the home tie with Pennine champions Elland as part of a valuable learning curve and Gateshead Storm will probably take a similar philosophical stance when they host GMB Union BARLA National Cup holders and current National Conference leaders Wath Brow Hornets.
Loughborough University, notable winners at Heworth in the Preliminary Round, will add to their education at Oldham St Annes while Coventry may have preferred not to have been sent to NCL champions Siddal in a match which will take place on Sunday.
St Albans, meanwhile, are now nicely geared for their home tie with Thatto Heath Crusaders, although holding out little hope of victory.
There could, however, be surprises at Portsmouth - where the Royal Navy host Normanton - and at Northolt where Castleford Lock Lane face the RAF. And the Army may not be fazed by a West Hull outfit perhaps diverted by the need to avoid relegation from the National Conference League's Premier Division.
Elsewhere, tasty-looking ties include the Widnes "derby" between Simms Cross and St Maries, and the clash at Wilderspool involving one-time National Conference giants Woolston - now operating as Warrington Wizards - and last season's giant-killers Sharlston Rovers.
The national spread of the amateur game over recent years, through the ever expanding Rugby League Conference is clearly reflected in the following exciting draw.
POWERGEN CHALLENGE CUP ROUND ONE
Saturday February 5th 2005
Barrow Island v Skirlaugh
Blackbrook v Oulton Raiders
Castleford Panthers v East Hull
Clayton v Leigh Miners Rangers
Essex Eels v Elland
Gateshead Storm v Wath Brow Hornets
Halton Simms Cross v Widnes St Maries
Haydock v Cutsyke
Hull Dockers v Bradford Dudley Hill
Illingworth v Stanley Rangers
Milford Marlins v Huddersfield Underbank Rangers
Oldham St Annes v Loughborough University
Queens v Millom
Royal Navy v Normanton Knights
St Albans Centurions v Thatto Heath Crusaders
South London Storm v West London Sharks
Stanningley v Walney Central
Warrington Wizards v Sharlston Rovers
Waterhead v Askam
West Bowling v Leigh East
West Hull v The Army
Westgate Redoubt v Eccles & Salford Juniors
Wigan St Judes v Embassy
Wigan St Patricks v Hensingham
Sunday February 6th 2005
Bramley Buffaloes v Thornhill Trojans
Royal Air Force v Castleford Lock Lane
Siddal v Coventry Bears