If the Challenge Cup is dying, maybe we should stop killing it

If the Challenge Cup is dying, maybe we should stop killing it

Do you ever find yourself in a ‘chicken and egg’ situation? I know I have in most of my past jobs where I ask myself, what came first? My bad attitude or my employer trying to have me over a barrel, for want of a better phrase.

Now before I go off on too much of a tangent, it occurred to me after the weekend’s Challenge Cup fixtures that the competition also finds itself in something of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. By that, I mean, what came first? The seeming lack of interest from the powers that be, or from the fans, who have deserted the cup in their droves.

Ultimately, when did we all stop caring about the Challenge Cup and why?

When I went to my first final back in 2008 there were more than 82,000 in attendance at Wembley, and all the way up until the 2017 final there were at least 76,000 there. So what happened?

In the past few years, the final has struggled to break the 60,000 barrier and the RFL must be praying for a Wigan vs St Helens final this year to get more bums on seats again after the disappointing turnout for Hull KR vs Leigh in 2023.

There’s no way anyone who watched that game last year wouldn’t have been impressed though, so why is the competition struggling so much to get bigger crowds? I appreciate that it can get a bit monotonous at times, seeing the same clubs play each other three or more times a season, but as fans what do we want? To see the cup become extinct?

The Challenge Cup Final at Wembley has always been one of the highlights of the rugby league calendar, and anyone who’s been to one will tell you how special it is. Just ask the Leigh fans who were there last year if the cup has lost its sparkle. Or ask the Hull KR fans if the game didn’t mean that much to them when they lost in golden point.

And tell me, in what other sport could you go to Wembley and watch a cup final involving the country’s best players for £20? Certainly not in football, and the FA Cup’s supposedly in a similar state to the Challenge Cup.

Anyone who follows a club in any sport will know, there are plenty of highs and a lot more lows, but at least with a cup competition, it keeps the season interesting for longer. Take the NRL, where there’s no knockout cup to play for. A team like the Gold Coast Titans might as well pack up for the year already, and they’re only three games in. What do their fans have to look forward to over the next few months? But imagine if they had a cup to play for as well? Wouldn’t that keep things interesting for a bit longer?

Another thing that’s become increasingly popular with RL fans on social media is to criticise the broadcasters for apparently ‘not showing enough interest in the sport’. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Do people really think the BBC will bother showing live games in primetime slots if a ground isn’t even half-full?

It never ceases to amaze me how much we as RL fans shoot ourselves in the foot. Only 1,673 turned up for Huddersfield v Hull FC last Saturday, yet we expect the BBC to pay more attention? Come on! This isn’t a dig at those two clubs specifically either, as the attendances at Warrington, Leeds and Wigan were similarly pathetic, given the size of each club’s fanbase.

If we can’t be bothered to turn up, then why should Sky or the BBC?

Again, I appreciate many of the arguments for why fans don’t buy into the cup too much, what with the extra cost, extra travel, the same teams being drawn against each other year after year, but for the time being, we have a 12-team Super League and expansion isn’t happening in a hurry, so for anyone who didn’t go and watch their team last week but could have done, please get yourself along to the quarter-finals in a couple of weeks if your team are still in it.

And if they’re not, then get your Wembley tickets booked for June and go and enjoy watching two top teams batter each other for 80 minutes at the national stadium for just £20.

If you don’t, there might not be a final to go to in a few years’ time.

Darren Notley

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