It’s a big day for Wales this Sunday when Cardiff Demons host Wigan Warriors at Cardiff University Sports Fields (kick-off 2pm) in what will be the first ever Betfred Women’s Rugby League Challenge Cup match to feature a Welsh side.
This game will be the 100th “running rugby” Challenge Cup game to feature a Welsh side, as 99 matches have been played in the men’s Challenge Cup since sides first entered in 1908.
It’s only the 11th season of the Women’s Challenge Cup, with this the first year that the competition will be on equal footing with the men, as the final will be played at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 12th August.
The road to Wembley for the Demons starts here in what will be their first game of the season. Wigan, who could feature Wales international Carys Marsh, come into the game on the back of a 22-all draw with Warrington Wolves last weekend.
Cardiff Demons are entering their third season of competitive action after winning two successive Women’s Super League South titles. It’s a big season for the capital side as they know a hat-trick of titles will put them into play-offs for a place in the main Women’s Super League competition for 2024.
But for this week, and for the next two games, it’s a test against some of the best from the north of England, with Featherstone Rovers and Salford Red Devils also in Cardiff’s round robin group of four as they aim for a place in the knock-out quarter-finals.
The Demons announced their 21-player squad yesterday (Thursday) with confirmed first 13, substitutes and reserves. Four newcomers are in the starting line-up – Kaitlin Hubbert, Zoe Heeley, Amy Price and Hannah Jones – with Jones having been named in the 37-player Wales train-on squad yesterday. Another newcomer, Emily Parker, is on the bench, and if any players withdraw before the day, Cleo Fish, Sophie Peters and Greece’s international captain Rania Koutsikou are all ready to step in for what would be their Cardiff debuts.
Leanne Burnell is the new Demons captain. The 29-year old has an outstanding playing record in rugby league, and she’s been here right from the start. She was named player of the match in the very first open age game in Wales back in 2019 when Cardiff Blue Dragons beat Rhondda Outlaws. She’s made eight Demons appearances in the Super League South scoring 11 tries and kicking 21 goals. Also a regular in the Wales side, where she’s scored three tries in her five matches. She was named in the Wales Rugby League Team of the Year for 2022.
Burnell is one of eight Wales internationals in the Cardiff side for Sunday. They include Shaunni Davies, who makes her rugby league comeback after 20 months out through injury.
Here’s our 21 strong squad taking on @WiganWarriorsRL this Sunday💪🏼#WomensRugbyLeague #CardiffDemons #ChallengeCup #Group1 #Round1 #Fixture #Clash #SquadAnnouncement #SquadGoals #TeamNews #KweensOfTheSouth #NorthMeetsSouth #UppaDemons #LetsGo pic.twitter.com/XAk0WBbNrr
— Cardiff Demons RLFC (@CardiffDemons) April 20, 2023
Demons’ head coach Ian Newbury said: “We’ve been progressing well through the pre-season. We have a number of new players that have joined us this year and it’s starting to build some real competition for places within the squad. Everyone knows that they need to be on top of their game to earn that spot in the match-day side.
“We are really looking forward to our first run at the Challenge Cup. It’s our opportunity to see where we are in the world of rugby league.
“Our expectations are to compete in every game. There is a belief in the squad that we can push through to the knockout stages and deliver a few shocks.”
Cardiff Demons: Leanne Burnell (capt), Eleri Michael, Kaitlin Hubbert, Leanna Maybank, Zoe Heeley, Rhi Parker, Shaunni Davies, Sara Jones, Amy Price, Lauren Aitken, Hannah Jones, Ffion Jones, Lowri O’Raw. Subs: Sophie Solari, Ffion Jenkins, Emily Parker, Chelcey Greasley. Reserves: Cleo Fish, Bethan Rickard, Rania Koutsikou, Sophie Peters.