Betfred Championship and League 1 clubs on Friday began discussions about the possibility of an autumn competition.
TotalRL.com revealed the initial proposal from the RFL last week, which includes £250,000 of prize money.
The website reported that the model was based on 16-teams with voluntary entry, lasting nine weeks, beginning on the weekend of October 3/4 and finishing on the weekend of November 28/29.
Clubs would be split into two geographical conferences, east and west, and clubs would play each team in their conference in a round-robin event over the course of seven weekends.
The top two teams from each conference would advance to the semi-finals, followed by a Grand Final the weekend after.
On Friday the clubs held talks with the RFL and each other about the proposal, with League Express seeing some of the further details outlined by the governing body via online slides.
They clarified that the 16 team plan is an ideal, and that it needs to be a minimum of eight, and an even number of teams.
The RFL also detailed how the prize pool could be split.
The winners would receive £35,000 and runners up £25,000, with conference winners and runners-up also receiving £35,000 and £25,000 respectively.
Third place in each conference would receive £20,000 and fourth place £15,000.
League Express has spoken to several clubs since the meeting and it’s fair to say that any interest is tentative at this stage.
League 1 Rochdale Hornets were among the first to issue a statement on their stance, revealing that they will not be joining the competition on Saturday evening.
Their explanation, both of the cancellation of the League One season and decision not to join the autumn competition, provides a revealing insight into the dilemma that clubs have faced.
It read: “The current restrictions on returning to play coupled with the ongoing cost implications means it is extremely difficult to return safely without compromising the clubs’ financial footing.
“In truth, the RFL have given every opportunity for the game to return with government restrictions easing, but we are ultimately running out of time to complete a viable season.
“Having reviewed the invite to compete in the autumn competition the board have unanimously voted to not accept the invitation.
“Whilst the opportunity to compete later in the year is appealing, it does not support the club’s ambition to challenge for League One promotion.
“The financial implications associated with returning to play have not changed and the players’ welfare and readiness is not conducive to playing a friendly competition.
“We wish to reassure supporters that our ambition has not changed, your club must be ready for 2021 and we have positioned the club to deal with the 2020 challenges with your continued support.”
Which other clubs decide to join remains to be seen. Some expressed an interest privately, others will announce this week that they are not participating.
The other dimension to it is the five clubs still in the Challenge Cup – Featherstone, Newcastle, Sheffield, Widnes and York.
It’s difficult to see any of those taking up their place in the Cup if they don’t enter the autumn competition because of the financial implications of leaving the furlough scheme.
Featherstone issued their own statement last week. Released before the Friday meeting with the RFL, it read: “Officials at Featherstone believe the decision to terminate the season ultimately made the club’s ability to participate in the sixth round almost impossible due to concerns on player welfare and the Cup being somewhat compromised.
“Rovers are yet to return to training due to the season being postponed following the coronavirus pandemic and were only informed on Monday that the season was ultimately cancelled.
“Wakefield Trinity have already returned to full-time training and will have played twice in the Super League before the Cup-tie is due to take place, and Rovers officials believe this is where the Cup competition has been compromised.”
Chief executive Davide Longo added that the club believes if it did take part, it would be on an “uneven playing field” against Trinity.
It’s yet another situation where not everybody can win; five withdrawals would be completely understandable and would leave the RFL with just ten teams in the Challenge Cup.
It’s another important week for the sport outside of Super League.