Leave the Challenge Cup alone

A fortnight ago, there were calls to change the Challenge Cup. The fifth round has passed, and now we have the same calls. Please tell me why.

Warrington were awesome in their 112-0 beating of Swinton, but this is no reflection on the Lions. In fact, Warrington have handed some beatings to Super League opposition, including Castleford just a week previously.

For some reason in rugby league, we appear obsessed to avoid one-sided scorelines, hence the utterly ridiculous format at the 2008 World Cup. One-sided scorelines are virtually inevitable in any knockout competition, but that is no reason to seed.

I’ve seen people suggest that the 14 Super League clubs should receive byes to the last 16, to be joined by the two remaining Championship teams. Well, there was only three non-Super League in the last 16 this time anyway, and even with two Championship clubs, you have the potential for a one-sided scoreline.

Tell anyone who was at Widnes v Hull on Saturday that the format needs changing. Hull are in good form in Super League, while Widnes are struggling in mid-table of the Championship, yet the Vikings upped their game and pushed Hull hard, with even FC coach Richard Agar admitting the scoreline flattered the Airlie Birds, which it did.

Leave the Challenge Cup alone. Leave it unseeded.

We’ve scrapped promotion and relegation, so the Challenge Cup provides the only real chance for clubs in the lower league to step up and face the big boys. A Championship team is never going to win the competition, but so what? Don’t take away the opportunity. Those Swinton players, most of them part-time, can say that they’ve played against one of the best rugby league teams of their generation.

Crowds have left a lot to be desired, but that isn’t to do with the format. It’s a shame that many of the non-Super League teams miss out on a big pay day because the first round games are counted on season tickets, but then again, would the crowds be anywhere near that size if they weren’t included?

I’m all for trying playing games in midweek. I think it would be good to have a knockout cup competition under lights, and it also frees up more weekends within the season either for more league games, or international and representative games.

Another thing that grinds me about the crowds is that there was a massive outrage when it was suggested that the Challenge Cup final could be removed from the free-to-air televised listing. There were so many people up in arms about it, yet attendances in Challenge Cup rounds are pathetic. If people care so much about the competition, they need to get to games, and get supporting their team in it.

But, we were treated to two cracking games on BBC over the weekend, and with what is a very strong quarter-final line-up, we should be in for a few more televised treats right up until Wembley in August.

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