Challenge Cup romance at a premium

Upfront: The League Express opinion – Mon 12th April 2021

Challenge Cup romance was in short supply as the dreams of a quartet of Championship clubs were quashed and an all-Super League quarter-final line-up ensured.

That might have made the arrangements for the semi-finals of its little brother the 1895 Cup more straightforward, since there is no longer a chance of Featherstone, Swinton, Widnes or York being involved in the last four of the senior knockout competition on the weekend of June 5/6.

But it’s also led to suggestions that it’s no longer an entertaining proposition, or, given the welcome increased attention to player welfare, a safe one, for part-timers to tackle full-timers, such is the gap between Super League and the rest of the sport.

Supporters of that theory would put forward the scorelines from the ties between Super League and Championship teams – York 0 Wigan 26 (pictured), Salford 68 Widnes 4, Featherstone 14 Hull 34 and Swinton 8 Warrington 32.

Perhaps they would also point to promoted Leigh’s 36-18 home defeat by a Huddersfield side who had lost both their opening Super League games.

But how could Rugby League kick into touch its historic flagship competition, which has existed since a year after the sport’s foundation in 1895?

Granted, Challenge Cup shocks are rare, but Bradford did defeat Leeds as recently as 2019, and, as the old saying goes, where there’s life, there’s hope.

And, of course, another crucial point to consider is the financial boost that, in normal times, a lower-level club gains from a meeting with one of the big boys.

Swinton sold £10 virtual tickets for their clash with Warrington in an attempt to gather a little of the windfall they would have enjoyed had the Heywood Road tie been staged in front of fans.

“The loss of a paying crowd for this massive cup-tie was a heart-breaking financial punch in the face for the Lions,” said Swinton’s director of development Damian Ridpath.

“We estimated lost revenue from the tie would have been in the region of £40,000, so missing out on it was a huge blow for a club at our level.

“Not only would that income have underpinned our off-field community strategy and on-field efforts for the rest of 2021, it would have also helped put us in good shape ahead of the 2022 season.”

Moving out of the pandemic, those kinds of monetary concerns are more important than ever.

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