Anniversary Series – Part 6

26th January 2021

There was a home draw for the first time in the 1998/99 competition, and the opposition was Thatto Heath. Highlights from the game were featured on BBC’s Grandstand, as part of their build up to the entry of the professional clubs at the third round stage and the start of their live coverage at the fourth round stage. The visitors from St Helens had beaten professional side Chorley in the third round two years before and were hot favourites, but Skolars got off to a flyer. Strong running and intelligent kicking forced the visitors into early mistakes, leading to a try for Olcjay Ibrahim. The Skolars enjoyed most of the possession early on, but the cold conditions and the pressure of playing in front of the BBC Grandstand cameras seemed to affect them and they failed to take advantage until a slick passing move put Bobby Brown over in the corner. Brown also worked hard in defence, stopping two try chances, to keep the Skolars 8-0 ahead at half-time.

This lead was extended a minute after the break when Man of the Match Andy Hurst took advantage of Heath’s error under a bomb. The much fancied visitors couldn’t break the determined Skolars’ defence until five minutes from the end that this pressure finally resulted in a try for Welsby. Despite a late sending off, the Skolars bounced straight back with Norm Callaghan running 40 metres after following on from a kick to seal the win with a flourish, to the delight of the Skolars’ then l trgest crowd to date. The one sad note was the departure back down-under of Callaghan, Aaron Thomas and try machine Alfie Petelo, the latter having been a key factor in the side winning nine of their first fifteen games in that season’s National Conference League Division 2.

Giles Conway, then a volunteer working on match reports, later going to play for the side in the amateur days, was so inspired by the performance that, straight after the game, he said he would go to the next game whatever the draw. When the draw took place, I got a call. “I can’t find Wath Brow on a map, where is it?” He kept his word even when I told him that they played in Cleater Moor, just outside Whitehaven and so it was that five of us made an early start in a Renault Clio on the shortest day of the year for one of the longest trips in the English game.

It was a busy weekend for Skolars, having hosted the final game of the Student RL European Championships. France defeated England 8-4 but the loudest cheer came from a Welshman as the result meant his side won the tournament. The team went up on the Saturday, but accidently left the 18th man, Daniel Valverde, at New River. Thankfully, the 17 were fully fit on the Sunday. It was 6 all at half-time with Mason Carpo’s try converted by Brett Plummer. Carpo scored a second and the prop was only denied a hat-trick by inches as he went for the line at 10 all. The game was heading for what would have been the first ever extra time in the cup, but a late try for for BARLA U21 international Phil Sherwen saw Wath Brow progress to the third round, winning 16-10.

Skolars were denied a chance to take on a professional club that year, but they did have the honour of being the first amateur club from London to win a game in the Challenge Cup in the then 103 year history of the competition.

It wasn’t until 2004 when they played Featherstone Rovers in the fourth round that Skolars played a professional side, but by that time they were themselves in the professional ranks. Their first win against a pro team came in 2006, beating Gateshead Thunder 20-10, going onto play Super League opposition in the fourth round, losing at Warrington Wolves 52-0.

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