RFL monitors uneven Challenge Cup but handicap not planned

Challenge Cup logo 2013

The Rugby Football League debates the issue of competitiveness in the Challenge Cup regularly but “there are currently no plans to introduce a handicap system into the Challenge Cup”, spokesman John Ledger has said.

In a response to a suggestion made in the post “The Challenge Cup’s handicap” on the Rugby League Wiki blog, the governing body revealed that the issue of uncompetitive Challenge Cup fixtures “is debated regularly” by the RFL and has recently been on the agenda of the Laws Committee chaired by Chief Executive Nigel Wood. The committee’s membership includes representatives of the wider game, including coaches and players.

The RLW post, which noted the cup brought “professional, semi-professional, amateur, police, armed forces, student and overseas sides” and their differences together into one competition, highlighted the sometimes heavy scorelines when clubs played opponents from other tiers of the game. An “unobtrusive” handicap system was suggested for consideration, including changes to the number of interchanges permitted made according to opponents’ tier or division and the option of stoppages at quarter and three-quarter time if the lower level team wants them.

The RFL believes that “the issue with regard to the resources available to the top teams and those in the lower divisions is not exclusive to rugby league: it’s something that occurs across all sports, both team and individual” and that “the issue in rugby league is exaggerated because of the comparison with association football: the nature of that sport means a lower league team can be hopelessly outplayed by Manchester United and only lose by a couple of goals. Unfortunately in rugby league the physical strengths and superior fitness of the elite players means blow out scorelines are unavoidable”.

Their response also noted that only last year, on a “level handicap”, tier one team Castleford Tigers was beaten by Featherstone Rovers, a tier two team, and that Featherstone lost respectably in the next round to tier one Wigan Warriors.

With elite teams progressively improving standards, it must be a worry that the issue will remain and potentially become more acute.

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