Aaron Bower (AB): With the news that Keighley and Leigh are planning to field under-strength sides in their Challenge Cup ties this weekend, it’s time the RFL stepped in and stopped clubs from doing this. The Challenge Cup is our most prestigious competition, and if teams aren’t taking it seriously – especially in the latter stages – the game has a massive problem.
Joe Whitley (JW): I agree it’s not ideal, but what this stems from is an even bigger problem; the gulf in class between the leagues is too large. There’s no way part-time teams like Leigh or Keighley can beat full-time outfits like Leeds and Widnes. And with both Championship sides playing on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, why would they want to risk injuring their best players in a game they know they can’t win? The best odds you can get on a Leigh loss is 1/41, while Keighley losing is 1/100. It’s ridiculous.
AB: The answer to that is simple: they should want to put on a good showing in anticipation of the new structure arriving next year. This is the only opportunity we will get to see Championship sides on television this year due to the problems with TV rights – what kind of a message does it send out when the Championship teams can’t be bothered to take the cup seriously? It devalues our greatest tournament, and makes a mockery of these sides getting so far in the cup, only for them to turn their backs on it when they get a tie they think they can’t win.
“I agree it’s not ideal, but what this stems from is an even bigger problem; the gulf in class between the leagues is too large. There’s no way part-time teams like Leigh or Keighley can beat full-time outfits like Leeds and Widnes.”
JW: If you ask me, putting a full-strength side out against Super League opposition is an exercise in futility. There’s very little chance of progressing and the increased intensity will only serve to tire out their players, who are in action again in the middle of next week. Whether or not the two teams field full strength sides won’t matter as the results will be the same regardless, so why risk injuring or tiring out the players who are needed in the league?
AB: No chance of winning? Just ask Sheffield if they thought they had a chance against Wigan in 1998. You never know what could happen in the Challenge Cup, and it is only fair you give yourselves the best chance. I would imagine the players who are being left out are just as disappointed as me, given how they are being robbed the chance of playing in the quarter-final of a Challenge Cup. This has been a remarkable run from Keighley, but it will end in a whimper tonight. And what about the fans who are driving miles and miles, spending plenty of money? Do they not deserve to see a full-strength side being put out?
JW: I agree, it will be very disappointing for the players who miss out and the fans will surely be livid. Like you, I want to see both teams in each match at full strength and that is surely what should be happening. However, it’s easy to see why Paul March is choosing not to risk his best players. Like I’ve said before, though, I believe this is a counter product of a much bigger problem in the game, and until we rectify that things like this will continue to happen.
“It’s time the RFL stepped in and stopped clubs from doing this. The Challenge Cup is our most prestigious competition, and if teams aren’t taking it seriously – especially in the latter stages – the game has a massive problem.”
AB: But if teams bit the bullet and treat the cup seriously then the problem would go away instantly. Clubs need to respect their fans, and respect this competition.
JW: That would be like putting a plaster over a stab wound – a short term fix. If the gulf in class was less noticeable between the leagues and, like in football, second tier teams had a chance of taking down sides in the league above them, there would be something to play for. Right now, Keighley have nothing to play for, other than pride. And what use is pride if it costs you valuable league points?
AB: A strong performance could put a lot of players in the shop window to perhaps get a bigger move. Denying them to chance to play on Sky TV is a huge thing to rob part-time players of – some of whom could make the step up.