League Express editor MARTYN SADLER reflects on a notable Rugby League weekend in London.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the 1895 Cup Final and the Challenge Cup Final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday.
The new venue for Rugby League was breathtaking and I can’t imagine that any Rugby League supporter won’t have been thrilled on entering the stadium, even if, for Featherstone and Huddersfield fans, the result didn’t go their way.
The first game saw the sides level at half-time but in the second half Leigh pulled away, to give their owner Derek Beaumont the experience of winning the trophy that has been donated by his own company.
Derek certainly wears his heart on his sleeve and it was hard not to feel happy for him as he celebrated Leigh’s success with his players.
It’s obvious now that Leigh have struck a psychological blow against their main rivals Featherstone after Saturday’s result, although the two clubs will be meeting again at least three times before the end of the season and the main game will be the Million Pound Game, which will decide which of the two clubs is promoted (assuming they both reach that game).
Featherstone seemed at times to be unnerved by the stage on which they were playing, often looking threatening but with the last pass too frequently going to ground. But there is little doubt that they will benefit from the experience and they are unlikely to make as many mistakes the next time the two sides meet, so there is still a lot to look forward to for their supporters.
As far as the Challenge Cup Final is concerned, like many people I would like to see more names going on the trophy, but Wigan did what Wigan do, which is play for the full 80 minutes.
As I tweeted at half-time: “So the @Giantsrl lead @WiganWarriorsRL 10-6 at half-time. When I was a kid my dad told me, ‘Never write Wigan off!’. It was very good advice.”
And unfortunately for the Giants, it proved to be good advice once again, which Lance Todd Trophy winner Chris McQueen acknowledged at the end of the game.
But the game had some thrilling moments, including of course the last try, which we have inevitably selected as this week’s League Express Try of the Week.
But the most spectacular score was that of Jai Field when he supported an electrifying break by Bevan French.
When all is said and done, that is the sort of try that spectators travel a long way to see.
If we could guarantee tries of that quality at every game, then we would have much less difficulty in filling our stadiums.
The only two negatives of the afternoon, as far as I was concerned, was referee James Child’s reluctance to sinbin Morgan Smithies for at least one of his high tackles, which might have affected the outcome of the game, and the injury to Chris Hill, which saw him leave the game after 20 minutes, not to return.
Would the Giants have won if Chris had stayed on the field?
That is one of life’s great imponderables.
Should the Challenge Cup Final stay at Tottenham, return to Wembley or be played at various venues in the coming years?
Despite the brilliance of the Tottenham Stadium, and the fact that we had a double-header, we can’t escape the fact that the attendance of 51,628 was a historically low figure although none of us could know whether it would have been higher if the game had been played at Wembley.
Two other points worth remembering about Tottenham is that the stadium, unlike Wembley, has little space around its exterior, which denies fans the pre-match experience of walking down Wembley Way. And the transport infrastructure around the Tottenham stadium is very limited, with overland trains much less frequent from White Hart Lance station than underground trains at Wembley Park.
So, on balance, I would like the Challenge Cup Final to return to Wembley, while hoping that we will see more Rugby League events at Tottenham, such as matches against touring teams, which was supposed to have happened against Australia in 2020.
If you would like to vote on where the Challenge Cup Final should be played, you can do so on this website: totalrl.com, on the right hand side of the front page of the website.
The above content, slightly modified, is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.