Talking Rugby League: Is it time to ditch double headers after sparse Challenge Cup crowd?

To judge by the number of tickets sold, which was officially 22,141, Elland Road, whose official capacity is 37,792, was more than half-full.

I’m not sure it looked more than half-full at any time in the three matches on Saturday, because the fans of the six teams involved for the most part only stayed in their seats when their teams were playing.

The Wigan and St Helens fans didn’t appear to hang around in any significant numbers for the clash between Huddersfield Giants and Hull Kingston Rovers. That was probably because the fans of the two Lancashire teams wanted to get home while the night was still young, but their departure emphasised the gaps in the stands for the Giants’ victory over the Robins.

I always find it a great shame that when we have the Challenge Cup shown on the BBC, the stands are hardly ever full, although let’s hope that the situation will change for the Cup Final itself, with enough fans wanting to make the trip to Tottenham to fill the capacity there, which stands at 62,850.

If we are to get anywhere near to reaching that capacity, then we need a strong marketing campaign in the period leading up to the game, especially given the modest support that is currently enjoyed by the Giants.

I’m not sure why the people of Huddersfield don’t come out in greater numbers to watch what is a very good team, but the club itself now needs to take advantage of the opportunity it has been given to expand its supporter base.

Unfortunately, when the Giants won the League Leaders’ Shield in 2013, it failed to reach the Grand Final and it failed to kick on and increase its support at that time. I hope it doesn’t allow this latest opportunity to slip through its fingers.

It will also be interesting to see how many fans Wigan take to the Challenge Cup Final.

The Warriors’ support appears to have been steadily declining in recent years, but the directors have done a great job this year in appointing Matty Peet as their coach, as well as recruiting Lee Briers as his assistant and having a side with tremendous entertainment value this season.

After last season’s dull brand of football, Wigan have been a breath of fresh air in 2022 and I’m sure they will grace the Tottenham stadium.

At one time, Wigan would have taken 25,000 supporters to Wembley. That won’t happen this year, sadly, but it would be great to see the club selling close to 10,000 tickets at least.

But going back to my original theme, I was an advocate of doubling up the semi-finals so that two or three matches would take place at the same venue. But now I’m not so sure.

I don’t think it ever does a sport any good to be played in a stadium with lots of empty seats.

If we think about the games on Saturday, surely we would have seen a packed stadium if Wigan and St Helens had met at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium or Leigh Sports Village.

And Hull KR v Huddersfield Giants would have gone some way to filling Headingley, particularly if the Women’s Challenge Cup Final had been played at Headingley on the same day.

Trying to fill stadiums for Challenge Cup games is obviously difficult these days, but the RFL must find ways of being creative enough to achieve that aim.

Having said that, I’m delighted to see that the RFL are strongly promoting the Challenge Cup Final, as you will see if you turn to the centre spread.

The growing status of Women’s Rugby League

If you look on pages 20 and 21 of today’s issue, you’ll see that we have devoted a double-page spread to the Women’s Challenge Cup Final.

This reflects the growing status of the women’s game, with my colleague Richard de la Riviere enthusing strongly about his love of Women’s Rugby League.

He’s right to do so and the Women’s World Cup this autumn is promising to be a historic highlight for Rugby League.

My congratulations to the women of St Helens for their triumph in what was a compelling game.

The only thing holding back even stronger growth for the women’s game is the concentration of talent in a very small number of clubs. We need to see a wider variety of clubs competing at the highest level, although that criticism can also be directed at the men’s game.

And that’s one reason I’m glad to see Huddersfield Giants heading to the Challenge Cup Final.

The Giants are coming very near to the point at which they can go into any game reasonably confident of earning a result, even against the best in the league.

Rovers and Centurions

The crowd at Tottenham will also be boosted no doubt by sizeable followings from Featherstone and Leigh for the final of the 1895 Cup.

Featherstone are the holders of the Cup – they defeated York City Knights last year – while Leigh will play in the final for the first time.

In fact it will be Leigh’s first trip to London for a major final since they won the Challenge Cup in 1971, so it would be great to see them take at least half the town to shout them on.

I’m greatly looking forward to that game between two sides that have an intense rivalry.

May the best team win.

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