When a band of Championship clubs confirmed the return of the Yorkshire Cup as a pre-season tournament, it seemed like a bright idea.
Roll the clocks forward to now and with the competition at its conclusion, the optimism and approval have been more than justified.
Let’s face it, even the most passionate Rugby League supporter finds it difficult to enjoy pre-season games. Instead, they endure them.
So adding some meaningfulness to fixtures and providing a sensible, three-week format was never going to do any harm whatsoever.
The proof was in the pudding during the first weekend of the tournament, with over 3,000 turning out for the doubleheader at Odsal.
Bradford were the ultimate winners of the tournament, beating Batley in the final in front of an impressive 2,297 people.
— Bradford Bulls (@OfficialBullsRL) January 20, 2019
For reference, that’s a bigger crowd than when the Bulls visited the Bulldogs for their 2017 Championship clash, a game that drew in a crowd of 1,726. The equivalent game in 2016 saw 2,742 through the gates while 3,019 were there in 2015.
Attendances have bucked the usual pre-season trend, and that can only be a good thing for a sport that needs all the revenue it can get.
Players and coaches seem to have bought into the concept, too. Calling a Rugby League match a friendly is a paradox anyway given the pure nature of the sport, but few of the games have had that awful pre-season feel to them.
The challenge for the clubs involved now is to build on the concept. For all its success there have been issues, the main one being a general lack of organisation.
Dates and venues for later rounds of the competition were not known in advance while there seemed to be confusion among club chairmen about where the final should and would take place. Fans were left in the dark as to what happened to clubs who didn’t make the final two.
If the competition is to return in 2020; there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, then it would be far better for all involved if there was a more transparent calendar that outlined venues and the competition tree. When fans are unaware of who and where their team will be playing less than a week before a match, that’s a cause for concern at best and farcical at worst.
But despite teething problems, the tournament has proven to be a shrewd introduction to the calendar that the game should be looking to expand rather than erase. Some clubs, namely Sheffield, have been left aggrieved at being snubbed for the event. To convince everyone of the concept’s legitimacy, clubs need to do all they can to involve more clubs from the region, rather than pick and choose their close allies.
There’s also, of course, the potential for Super League clubs to get involved, although Wakefield and Huddersfield traditionally keep pre-season games to a minimum.
But that certainly leaves the competition with the potential to grow, something that will be welcomed going forward.