Garry Schofield: Great Challenge Cup draw, but will it be played?

First things first, and before I say anything regarding Rugby League, I’d like to wish all my readers good health and urge them to heed all the official advice as we tackle the current global crisis.

This is a problem which affects us all, and by working together and being sensible, we can hopefully deal with it more effectively and try to get things back on track as soon as we safely can.

At the end of the day, health is more important than anything else. It has to be the number one priority for us all, and if staying healthy means making some sacrifices in the short term, so be it.

Of course, we all want to get back to normal as soon as possible, and we all want to be able to watch Rugby League, and all the other sports we want to see, once again.

Now is the time for the game’s leaders to do exactly that to ensure that when a ball can be handled again, clubs are in the best position to do so.

Worryingly, I haven’t seen a huge amount of strong leadership from the sport’s powers-that-be amid this crisis.

I know the situation is unprecedented and has posed huge challenges, but I get the feeling we are simply letting other sports take the lead, and like sheep, following later.

That’s all very well, but our game has some particular challenges, not least the precarious financial situation of many clubs, and particular solutions are going to be needed.

This isn’t the time to lag behind, it’s the time to take firm decisions, and to have a series of plans in place to cover a number of dates on which the season could resume.

Fans are the lifeblood of our sport. Without them, we don’t have a professional game.

Yet they have no idea what’s going on.

Do they risk buying a ticket for Magic Weekend, or the Challenge Cup Final, and attempting to sort out accommodation?

What if they have done so already? Do they attempt to recoup their money?

These are big decisions, particularly given the effect the crisis is having on the finances of individual people.

Transparency is crucial at this time, and shouldn’t it be announced that we will be focused on completing the league season at the expense of the Challenge Cup?

Last Monday, we had the draw for the sixth round, and it threw up some intriguing and mouth-watering ties.

Wigan versus holders Warrington, for instance, and Salford versus St Helens in a repeat of last year’s Grand Final.

Then there’s York’s up-and-coming coach James Ford facing one of his former clubs in Castleford, a tasty derby between Wakefield and Featherstone, the meeting of Sheffield and Hull, who both won the competition under the guidance of John Kear, and the clash of Newcastle and Toronto, who are both expansionists but in different ways.

But is there any genuine chance of the ties going ahead?

These are the type of decisions which need to be taken so we have a clearer idea of what is happening going forward, even if it is a series of potential calendars for the rest of the season.

Presumably there have been talks with the various broadcast partners whose financial input is so crucial to the game.

There is a suggestion of matches being played behind closed doors, but having watched some NRL games, I think this has to be a last resort.

The games haven’t been that entertaining, more like expanded training sessions, and in any case, when social distancing is in place, how can it be practical to play any sort of match?

Challenge Cup sixth round draw (ties scheduled for 4/5 April)
Wigan Warriors v Warrington Wolves
York City Knights v Castleford Tigers
Widnes Vikings v Catalans Dragons
Wakefield Trinity v Featherstone Rovers
Newcastle Thunder v Toronto Wolfpack
Leeds Rhinos v Hull Kingston Rovers
Salford Red Devils v St Helens
Sheffield Eagles v Hull FC