Gareth Walker looks back at the variety of Cup competitions for non-Super League clubs in the summer era

If Rugby League’s propensity to chop and change is evident in anything, it’s the Cup competitions held outside the top flight since 1996.

There have been a wide variety of formats, sponsors and final venues in the last 25 years, providing some memorable occasions for the clubs involved.

After having no competition outside the regular league campaign in the first summer season, the clubs competed in a Divisional Premiership the following year.

It saw clubs – minus bottom two Doncaster and Prescott Panthers – gain extra fixtures in a group format, before progressing to a knockout competition from the quarter-final stage.

In the final at Old Trafford, Huddersfield Giants beat their fellow Super League-bound opponents Hull FC 18-0, after having finished five points behind the Black and Whites in Division One.

The 1997 campaign also saw the ill-fated Challenge Cup Plate, which was won in stunning style at Wembley by Hull KR, with Stanley Gene scoring a hat-trick in their 60-14 demolition of Hunslet Hawks.

In 1998 there were another two new competitions outside the top flight – the Treize Tournoi, and the Trans-Pennine Cup.

The Treize Tournoi, played at the end of the campaign, involved Division One Grand Finalists Wakefield and Featherstone, plus Division Two winners Lancashire Lynx.

They each played two French clubs home and away before Villeneuve beat Steve Hampson’s Lynx 16-10 in the final in front of 10,283 fans in Toulouse.

The Lynx also took part in the inaugural Trans-Pennine Cup competition that helped add fixtures to the eight-team Division Two.

The final was won by Batley, who beat Oldham 28-12 in front of 2,696 at Mount Pleasant.

In 1999 the clubs were all back in one big competition, negating the need for extra matches, but in 2000 they used early league fixtures to create another Trans-Pennine Cup which went straight to a final, this time won by Dewsbury, 10-8 at home to Leigh.

A similar format was adopted in 2001, with the Centurions this time the winners, 36-0 at Keighley.
The more traditional Cup competition returned in 2002.

The memorably named Buddies Cup, which was backed by a soft drinks company of that name, saw a group stage followed by knockout matches during a mid-season hiatus, and runaway league winners Huddersfield lifted the trophy by beating Hull KR 32-6 at Featherstone.

What was now known as the National League Cup, with two divisions back from 2003, became sponsored by Arriva Trains, with promotion-bound Salford beating Leigh 36-19 at Spotland. All 20 clubs outside the top flight took part, with group stages producing ten matches before the league season kicked off.

There was a slight variation on that in 2004, with the Centurions this time lifting the title, again at Rochdale, by beating Hull KR 42-14 en route to the top flight.

The pattern of losing finalists returning to win the following year continued when the Robins lifted the Northern Rail Cup at its new home of Blackpool in 2005, beating favourites Castleford, with 9.400 fans creating a terrific atmosphere.

Rovers were back at the seaside the following year but lost out 22-18 to Leigh, and the competition’s relative stability – although amateur clubs from National League Three were added in a new group – continued as Widnes beat Whitehaven 54-6 at Bloomfield Road in 2007.

It was similarly one-sided when Salford beat Ellery Hanley’s National League Two Doncaster 60-0 the following year, but more competitive in 2009 as Widnes beat Barrow 34-18, the 8,720 attendance showing how Blackpool’s popularity remained.

By now teams were in just two pools creating four extra guaranteed fixtures, and Batley emerged as surprise winners in 2010, edging Widnes 25-24 in a memorable clash.

Leigh edged Halifax 20-16 in Blackpool the following year, with almost 9,000 again present, before Fax defeated Featherstone 21-12 in 2012.

After eight years of relative stability, change came the year after, with a pool stage only for third tier clubs, a final at the Shay won 43-28 by Leigh against Sheffield, and a secondary Bowl final that saw North Wales Crusaders beat London Skolars 43-28 as part of a double-header.

It was back to league and play-offs only in 2014, before in 2015 League One clubs had their own iPro Cup competition, won by North Wales 14-8 against Swinton in a terrific final held at the Summer Bash weekend in Blackpool.

Keighley lifted the same trophy the following year by beating York 22-18, while in 2017 Barrow edged North Wales 38-32 in another thriller, again at Bloomfield Road.

That would be the last of its kind, and after a 2018 free of any Cup competitions for non-Super League clubs, the 1895 Cup was launched last year, which was won by Sheffield Eagles against Widnes at Wembley.