Championship clubs consider Cup conundrum

York City Knights, Featherstone Rovers, Sheffield Eagles and Widnes Vikings have outlined their current positions over the 2020 Challenge Cup.

The four, plus League One’s Newcastle Thunder, are all in the last 16 of this year’s competition.

Finishing the Challenge Cup was written into all three proposed 2020 season completion plans that were revealed last week, with the final taking place on various alternative dates.

But there could be issues if clubs outside the top-flight do not have their own return-to-play plan by the time the action restarts.

Knights Chairman Jon Flatman, whose club has been drawn at home to Castleford, said: “It has been touched on in discussions, not in a tremendous amount of detail, but it has been raised.

“The Challenge Cup is integral to the fabric of the sport.

“It’s broadcast live on terrestrial TV; it’s a jewel in the crown of the sport, and certainly from a York perspective we’re very keen to be involved this year.

“It’s a big game for the club.

“The three main drivers for us during this pandemic have been solvency, the integrity of competitions and player safety, and if all those bases are covered we want to play and we want spectators to see it in whichever form they can.

“We’ve been excited since the draw about testing ourselves against the Super League club down the road, and they are also our dual-registration partners.

“What we have learned in this pandemic is that things can change very quickly; what’s true today might not be tomorrow, and we need to remain agile and able to adapt while always looking at the bigger picture.

“At some point in the future Rugby League will start playing again. The sport is alive and kicking and whenever that is, we’ll be ready.”

Featherstone chief executive David Longo, whose club drew local rivals Wakefield away, is equally keen to ensure Rovers take part if possible.

Longo said: “As a club we’re trying our hardest to be in a position to get matches back on, and the Challenge Cup is something we will sit down and discuss.

“Our club has a very proud history in the competition.

“It would be very difficult to ask us to make a cameo appearance if the Championship wasn’t restarting.

“But we are of the view that we will try everything to get back playing Rugby League, entertaining our supporters and providing a service for our commercial partners whenever it is safe to do so.”
Sheffield general manager Liam Claffey says the Eagles have been relishing the prospect of hosting Hull FC, potentially at the Keepmoat Stadium.

Claffey said: “The Eagles would absolutely still wish to compete in the Challenge Cup if and when it returns in 2020.

“We have been knocked out our first match the past few years, so it was a great reward, after defeating Halifax and Workington, to draw such a big name like Hull FC.

“We discussed potentially playing the game at the Keepmoat, where the Black and Whites have some good memories from previous Challenge Cup semi-finals and we would have hopefully seen a large travelling support that would have helped our finances significantly.

“We’d have to weigh up all the options if the game were to be played behind closed doors, which looks likely for any matches staged in the foreseeable future, as the financial incentive has potentially been removed unless there was broadcast revenue.

“We would obviously consult with our players and backroom staff to as we would take their steer on it.

“Their safety and willingness to train is paramount to us and their decision as a group would be our primary way of making a decision.

“It wouldn’t seem right for teams to get a bye through to the next round, leaving just Super League clubs in the competition, but I suppose we are in unprecedented times and everything needs to be looked at.

“There’s no easy answer to anything at the moment, but at this stage we won’t rule out competing in the Challenge Cup.”

Widnes chief executive Phil Finney says the Vikings face extra complications in hosting the Catalans Dragons, but that the competition remains important to the club.

Finney said: “Widnes has a great tradition and history with the Challenge Cup.

“But it is quite a complex issue and we have to consider everything very carefully.

“If the Championship season does end up null and void then we would have a decision to make and we have to consider the financial implications of everything.

“We were drawn against Catalans at home and that brings with it problems in terms of them getting into the country.

“There are so many variables and too many hypotheticals to make a decision at this stage.”