Written by Callum Walker
In recent years the Challenge Cup has become something of a sideshow to the main event – the Super League Grand Final – and attendances and excitement surrounding the competition have proved that.
Well, with Rugby League – like every sport – currently facing an uncertain future, scrapping the Challenge Cup could provide the sport with time. Weeks of the season are being lost – for good reason – but that only creates a backlog, as the football leagues have found out.
Calls have been made to scrap the entire season and start again in 2021, but that effectively renders a year useless. The seven loop fixtures previously arranged for the end of the regular Super League season can also be scrapped, providing seven weeks of time to somewhat get the season back on track.
Whilst those loop fixtures have been far from popular with the Rugby League fraternity and so getting rid of them won’t exactly be frowned upon, the Challenge Cup is still thought highly of throughout the UK, even if crowds don’t exactly match that.
Indeed, the past three finals held at Wembley have yielded an average of just over 60,000 spectators. In fact, the crowd number hasn’t hit 90,000 since 1988 when Halifax went down 32-12 to Wigan.
But, there are a number of reasons for this, including the emphasis placed by the powers-that-be on the Super League Grand Final, making that the be-all-and-end-all for top sides rather than the illustrious and historic Challenge Cup.
Add into the mix the fact that cup games are all pay with no season ticket incentive and people just simply cannot afford it, or choose not to. The magic is no longer there for Super League sides, and, whilst that isn’t the case with lower league clubs that want their moment of glory, those in the top tier view it as an obstruction to their league season rather than an added bonus.
🎙️ "HISTORY IS MADE!"
— The Coral Challenge Cup (@TheChallengeCup) April 4, 2020
Team selections often justify this point with second-teamers usually given the chance to showcase their talent with main stars sometimes rested. Maybe if Super League clubs took the competition more seriously then so would fans.
So, with the current crisis raising questions on how, when or even if the season will be completed, weekends need to be found from somewhere down the line. For all leagues, the only constant theme is the Challenge Cup.
For Super League teams, getting rid of this tournament as well as the seven-week loop fixtures could be the perfect tonic if the first tier want to actually end the season. Plus, removing the cup from the 2020 season could help fans, pundits and clubs appreciate the competition. The Challenge Cup is definitely stagnant at present, maybe a year off will help rekindle the love for it. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.