The Challenge Cup is a competition that brings a lot to the season. As well as fond memories and a change from league campaigns, it offers something that no other competition does. It brings together professional, semi-professional, amateur, police, armed forces, student and overseas sides in pursuit of the game’s oldest trophy.
The early rounds are fairly competitive, with few blow-out scores, as progressively stronger community teams enter the competition each round. But, when the semi-pro and professional teams enter the competition, the magic of community sides playing sides from the Championships and those championship sides meeting Super League sides is tempered by some heavy scorelines.
Only natural, when minnows play giants? Up to a point.
Tiers of the UK structure
||Championship, Championship 1
||Conference Premier, Conference One, Conference Two, Conference Three
||Other community clubs
Differences between tiers are unavoidable. It’s natural that clubs in tiers 1 and 2 are able to generate more money and use it to secure better coaches, better sports science and, of course, better players. Since squads in the top tier are now fully professional, the gap has increased further.
There are imposed differences, like the salary caps, too. In 2013, the headline salary caps for the semi-pro and pro game are: £1,650,000 for UK-based Super League clubs, €2,200,000 for the Eurozone-based Super League club, £300,000 for the Championship division and £150,000 for Championship One.
Rugby league is not a kind sport to weaker teams which is a problem for a whole game competition like the Challenge Cup. If you’re further down the structure than your opponent, you have a handicap. Factors inherent to the league system can’t be changed for a few matches in the cup, but the RFL could look at the potential of a cup handicap for teams in different tiers or with different salary caps to help mitigate them.
The handicap could combine a mix of changes and aim to be mostly unobtrusive
Interchanges are currently identical. A fully professional team being able to rotate players as usual and as much as a semi-pro or amateur team is clearly unfair. For each level of tier/cap, why not take interchanges from the ‘higher’ team and give more to the ‘lower’ team?
Referees could be selected from the lower team’s league competition, if they prefer, even if it’s for non-TV games only. Rather than a lower team having to adapt to refereeing from a level above, let’s move any disadvantage to the higher division team.
Quarter/three quarter time could be called, if the lower team wants it. This is more obtrusive but the stoppage is not new to the game. A break would only happen if the lower team thought they would gain from it, e.g. by halting the opposition’s momentum and reorganising. Near to the mid-point of each half, the team would decide, whether by the referee asking the captain or by the coach telling an official.
These are a few ideas for consideration; the handicap could be assessed and set by the RFL each year.
Now, ready for some cup rugby? The 2013 Challenge Cup schedule:
||1st & 2nd December 2012
||13th & 14th July
||3rd & 4th August
Update: Read the RFL’s response here.
Stay up-to-date by following RLW on Facebook.