The Northern Rail Cup has taken on greater significance due to the Super League licensing process; should it be rewarded by a Wembley final day?
Traditionally, the lower leagues show piece final has been held at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road, but Doncaster boss Tony Miller would like to see the game moved to Wembley as a curtain raiser to the Challenge Cup final.
He said: “Not only would there be more time to play the knockout stages and avoid a lot of teams having two blank weekends in one month, but it would also give the Championship players the chance to play at Wembley and also give the suppporters of clubs outside of Super League the chance to cheer on their team at Wembley.”
With the gulf between Super League and the rest increasing year on year, the likelihood of a Championship club ever being able to play at the national stadium is virtually non-existent. Barrow and Batley both reached the quarter-finals this season, but despite Barrow’s commendable defeat of Castleford, to pull off two top flight scalps would be extremely difficult, particularly when you consider the Tigers’ average Super League form and injury problems at the time of their defeat.
It would give lower league players the chance to play at Wembley, albeit in front of what would be a sparse crowd. It would, however, perhaps take something away from the Northern Rail Cup final, as the weekend in Blackpool has become something of a main event for fans on its own.
It has also carried the added incentive of fulfilling the playing criteria to apply for Super League this season and last, with Widnes “ticking the box” for winning last season’s competition.
Of the remaining four in this season’s competition, Leigh will be looking to guarantee their eligibility for Super League, while the Vikings will of course be doing all they can to prevent their rivals from joining the Super League race. Elevation for Batley and Keighley looks unlikely even if they do manage to win the competition, particularly the latter having entered administration in the close season.
The final, as it stands, remains a feasible target for most clubs in the Championship, as reflected by Keighley boss Barry Eaton’s comments after seeing his side defeat York in the quarter-finals.
“For us to get to Blackpool would be outstanding,” he said. “The final at Blackpool is now a massive day on the rugby league calendar for all Championship clubs.
“The Northern Rail Cup has moved up a notch the last two seasons, because of the fact that winning it ticks a box for clubs trying to get into Super League.”
The suggestion has been prompted by the disruption that the knockout rounds cause to the fixture list in the Championships. Clubs are granted a week off for the quarter-final and semi-finals dates, regardless of their involvement, as well as the final (due to the Northern Rail 9s), meaning potentially clubs could have just two games in 6 weeks, especially as the odd number of teams in both decisions means at least one sits out each week.
With teams already granted a week off for the August bank holiday, moving the NRC final there would at least free up one weekend in the season.
A curtain raiser to the Challenge Cup final at Wembley would take a bit of individuality away from the competition, and also make it a more costly trip for fans. As Super League continues to move away from the other leagues, it may be best to keep the NRC on the seaside.
What do you think? Should the Northern Rail Cup final be played as a curtain raiser to the showpiece Challenge Cup final? Or does it deserve a final day in its own right? Leave your views below.