Superfan Sandy Domingos-Shipley details her historical Challenge Cup experience as the first Canadian and fan invited to help decide the annual draw for this classic annual tournament.
The 3rd of February was a Monday that started of like many other Mondays – with a large coffee and a rush to sort the kids out for school. There was nothing to suggest my day was going to be any different than usual but little did I know that the “matrix” had something else planned. In the afternoon I received a call from my husband saying that someone from the Rugby Football League had called to speak to me. The RFL? I was so confused. I had no idea why anyone from the RFL would want to speak to me. Eventually, I called back and was asked if I would accept an opportunity to take part in the round five draw for Challenge Cup when Toronto Wolfpack were due to enter the competition. What?
I was speechless! I was also confused. I’m just a normal Canadian girl living in the UK and had only just started following rugby league. Why me? There was little time to answer and after some quick thought I accepted the invitation. Over the next week or so I kept the news from everyone but my husband even as the excitement in me grew. I was new to the sports scene in the UK while many of the fans I cheered alongside had followed rugby league since they were children. I didn’t want anyone to think I was gloating over the invitation.
Three weeks later – on February 24th – the news was out and I was preparing for the big day. The snow was falling in Leeds that morning as I prepared myself for the trip to Hull and silently hoped the weather would soften up. The invitation still hadn’t fully sunk in and I couldn’t get my head around the significance of the event but that was all about to change.
I arrived at Hull KR stadium around 4 PM with some friends and my family. Two of our kids – Lauren and Luis – had joined us and were “suddenly” hungry so before checking in with the draw officials my husband and I stopped for ice cream (because a mom’s job is never done). We then made our way to reception where I was invited to be part of Dave Woods’ podcast on the BBC. Amazing! Joining us was Julia Lee – the first female professional RL referee to officiate the men’s game – who I had met previously at a business networking lunch. That made things feel even more surreal as we sat down together in front of a mic on a live podcast to talk about our experiences with RL and the Challenge Cup.
We finished the segment and waited around until 6 PM for a meeting with the RFL production team managing the live draw. Hull KR fans entered as I was getting mic’d up for the shoot and slowly the empty room filled up with over 100 fans. Really? Before I could think much about it the producer shouted his cues, startling me into position with my heart pounding as his countdown began.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Go!”
And then we were on. For the draw it was decided that I would be selecting the home team and former baller Dave Watkinson would select for the away side. As the proceedings began I was feeling excited and nervous and kept thinking “Am I really here?” All I wanted to do was pick the Toronto Wolfpack but round after round went down and I was getting more and more nervous with their #11 ball still in the bag. The fans were buzzing as the draw continued on and I took another turn. After fumbling about in the bag my hand finally came out with the #11. Yes! I smiled and cheered and felt even better about being in the draw but Watkinson’s next pick threw everything for a loop. The away side he picked were the Huddersfied Giants – a team the Wolfpack was scheduled to play several times over the Super League schedule and had started off the season 3-0 (Wolfpack would go on to win the game 18-0).
And it went that fast. As soon as I felt we had started the draw it was over. The RFL and Hull KR staffs were fantastic and my family was able to enjoy the treatment as well. We truly feel honoured to have been asked to be part of the great history of this competition and as the first fan and Canadian to be invited, I got to make a little history of my own.