THE newly formed Papa John’s Community Cup gets underway this weekend and Bradford side Cleckheaton will be making their debut in the competition tomorrow.

Cleck welcome Sandbach to their home for the first time, as they get their cup journey underway. It will be the first of three-group stage (Regional One Pool Two) fixtures for the Moorend side, with trips to York and Stockport still to follow.

Whichever side finishes top out of the four teams in Pool Two, they’ll go onto the semi-finals where the respective winners of Pool One, Pool Three and Pool Four will be waiting.

It’s an exciting post season rugby union tournament for many clubs, and with the final set to be played at a ‘special venue’, it’s destined to be a competitive and thrilling knockout competition.

Cleckheaton’s Chairman of Rugby, Neil Gillan, said: “For me, at the moment the jury is out on the competition because it is new; that’s why we are looking forward to playing and welcoming Sandbach to Cleckheaton for the first time on Saturday. We’ll also have a couple of nice trips to York and Stockport, so it’s exciting.

“On the other hand, the real interesting point with this competition is the question of whether all the teams will fulfil their fixtures. For us, travelling to York and Stockport isn’t that bad but some clubs have got to travel some fair distances. My worry is that some clubs might not want to play the third fixture if they have lost the opening two games, especially if it’s a long distance to the final game. They might just think that there’s no point in fulfilling a long-distance fixture if there’s nothing to play for.

“We will certainly fulfil all our fixtures even if we lose the first two, but it will be interesting to see if other teams do. That’s what we are all waiting to find out.”

Gillan added: “We’d love to win the competition, particularly if we win our opening two games. It would be great to progress as far as possible in this cup because it will give us extra confidence ahead of next season. I would be amazing to finish the season with silverware.”

After being promoted to Regional One North East in 2022, Cleckheaton’s most recent campaign was a season of transition as they acclimatised to their new division . The season ended on March 11 and the Bradford side claimed an eighth-place finish – drawing level on points with Ilkley in seventh.

Reflecting on the club’s campaign, Gillan said: “At the start of the season having been promoted the previous year, we set an initial target of mid table respectability. Based on our resources, we didn’t feel we could finish much higher than that. Yes, at one point we thought we might be in with a shout of finishing higher than mid table but we suffered a few key injuries in January and that saw us lose a number of games back-to-back, which inevitably hindered our chances of finishing higher. Overall, given the injuries we had, I feel that mid table respectability was a good achievement for ourselves.”

He added: “The team spirit impressed me throughout the season, as apart from those injuries we got in January, we managed to keep a fairly settled side and this meant that the spirit, work ethic and togetherness of the team continued to improve as the weeks went on.

“Also, we managed to bring through several Colts players up to the first team. Bailey Smith, who unfortunately for us has gone to play in New Zealand for a year or so, Dom Howarth and Richard Noble were all regulars for our first team. It’s really nice having Colts to call on for the first team because it shows the progression path to adult rugby is there for the youngsters at our club. We’d like this at Cleckheaton because it was a real standout for our season.”

Cleck only manged to win 45% of their home fixtures last season and Gillan admitted that it could be an area to target for improvement heading into next season.

He admitted: “We’d love to make our home, Moorend, a fortress next season and in the future years. We did lose that aspect in the season just gone and we felt that we could have had more points from our home games; that’s for sure. We coughed up a number of games that we could and perhaps should have won; a weakness being that we beat ourselves up and sometimes lost our discipline as a result of that. If we forget all that and just focus on playing, then we can be a very good team both home and away.”