Challenge Cup semi-final attendances fail to inspire as fans show apathy towards rugby league’s most prestigious competition

THE Challenge Cup is synonymous with rugby league.

Chartering the first ever Challenge Cup Final way back in 1897 when Batley beat St Helens, 10-3, the competition has come a long way with Wigan Warriors the most successful team in history with 20 titles.

Unfortunately, in the past two decades, the competition has seen a steady decline. In 2015 over 80,000 spectators flocked to Wembley to watch Leeds Rhinos go up against Hull KR.

Last year, 58,000 did the same as Hull KR took on Leigh Leopards in one of the Challenge Cup’s most thrilling finales.

However, along the competition’s route, attendances have been dwindling with Super League sides, in particular, registering their lowest attendances of the season when the cup comes to town – which can see the clubs losing money.

The weekend’s semi-finals also proved to be a poor showing in terms of numbers. 11,163 turned out at Doncaster’s Eco-Power Stadium for Hull KR’s final four fixture with Wigan Warriors, whilst 9,253 went along to the Totally Wicked Stadium for Warrington Wolves’ clash against Huddersfield Giants.

This begs the question: why? Although, in reality, the two fixtures were far from close, on paper, they appeared to be what promised to be competitive clashes.

It’s the final four of rugby league’s most prestigious competition, yet, fans of four sides with a lot of history could not sell-out stadiums that don’t even hit the 20,000-mark capacity.

It is further evidence that the Challenge Cup needs reinventing, with the move back to June for the final perhaps not doing the competition any good.

Instead of it feeling like an end-of-season trophy hunt, it now seems like a pre-season competition for the ‘real’ prize come October with the Super League Grand Final.

Of course, the Grand Final itself has taken precedence within the upper echelons of rugby league since the concept was created back in 1998, but it’s still incredibly sad to see the decline of rugby league’s oldest competition.

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