Much has been made about the gap between the Challenge Cup quarter finals and semi finals.
Of course, the format of the competition changed a few years ago with the final being moved from May to Bank Holiday Monday in August.
The rounds, therefore, need to be phased throughout the year. However, this has resulted in a large gap between the final stages, with Wigan boss Brian Noble saying the cup will now take a back seat.
Warrington’s Lee Briers scored a thrilling drop goal against Hull KR on Saturday, but who’s to say he’ll be in anything near that form come August 8 when the Wolves face Wigan.
It also poses problems for those not involved in the competition, as it means a week off in the running to the end of the season. Take Widnes, for example. If they finish in the top two in the Championship (very unlikely as it is), they would have four weeks between games – bye week (league), cup final (no game), bye week (play-offs).
With the lower league teams involved in the Northern Rail Cup – which itself has had no games since the beginning of the league season – maybe it’s time to start the Challenge Cup later in the season, particularly with the weather picking up and thus attracting more fans to the games.
I remember watching a game between Widnes and Hunslet Warriors in the snow a few years back.
There is, of course, the argument that having the rounds too close together disrupts momentum for teams not involved in the competition, but maybe games can be scheduled and re-arranged to fit in the cup ties. The international weekend could even take place on the same dates as the cup semi-finals, but without players still in the competition not involved.
The three week gap between the semi finals and final is very reasonable. Perhaps the earlier rounds should be played later, so that the quarter finals can be pushed forward a bit. Bear in mind, we had two rounds within about three or four weeks recently.
It has been confirmed that Warrington will face Wigan at Widnes’ Stobart Stadium on Saturday August 8, 2.30pm kick off. Widnes hosted Wigan’s play-off game with Bradford last year, and the all-seater stadium is a superb, rugby league venue. There are those that might argue it’s not big enough, but 13,600 is good enough for a cup semi final. Plus it’s much better than playing in a half empty football stadium.
It will certainly be a bumper weekend of rugby league in Cheshire with confirmation that Huddersfield and St Helens will play their semi-final at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium on Sunday August 9 with a 4pm kick off.
The line-up is an exact repeat of the 2004 semi finals, which saw Wigan and St Helens progress to the final which Saints won 32-16 in Cardiff.