UpFront: Challenge Cup’s Wembley return welcome but RFL must pick a date and stick to it

Timing is key in any sport, as is tradition.

While visiting the impressive Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for this year’s Challenge Cup and 1895 Cup finals was an enjoyable experience, the venue doesn’t boast the kudos, never mind travel links, of Wembley.

So it’s good see the showpiece return to the national stadium, where the RFL has a contract to stage the match until 2027 (the venue was unavailable this year).

It’s also good to see the women’s final also being scheduled for Wembley on the same Saturday, reflecting the growth of that area of the game.

The development has the support of both the BBC, who are the chief broadcasters of the competition and are big backers of women’s sport in general, sponsors Betfred and the RFL’s new strategic partners IMG.

While the 1895 Cup final and Year 7 Champion Schools are described as being part of the day, it has yet to be made clear whether they will also be held at Wembley.

But what of the date, the ‘glorious twelfth’ of August?

As the start of the shooting season, that day is certainly bad news for the red grouse, but is it good news for Rugby League fans?

Opinion is very much divided on the subject.

It will be the fourth different month during which the final has been held in four years.

This time, when Wigan beat Huddersfield, it was May, in 2021, St Helens saw off Castleford Tigers in July, while in 2020, Leeds Rhinos beat Salford Red Devils in October.

That match was so late on because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic, with the original date being in July, a move from August, which had become the norm after finals had been staged in both April in May in the nine first years of Rugby League’s summer era.

That pre-pandemic plan was said to be in order to provide the best chance of maximising the attendance, which in 2019, for Warrington’s win over St Helens, was 62,717.

“It will be at a time when fewer people are away on holiday and, being played during term time, it gives us a great opportunity to work with schools, particularly focusing on the significant number of schools in London that play Rugby League,” said the governing body.

Understandably, many have questioned why the final, watched by 51,628 this year, will now be back in August.

Regardless of the month selected, it’s surely sensible that rather than change from year to year, the RFL come up with a timetable for the flagship competition  – and stick to it.

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