Tag Archives: Challenge Cup

Ray French’s Challenge Cup Final favourites

The matches, tries and people that Ray French most enjoyed seeing most in the Challenge Cup.

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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The Challenge Cup’s handicap

Challenge Cup logo 2013

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

Tier 1 Super League
Tier 2 Championship, Championship 1
Tier 3 Conference Premier, Conference One, Conference Two, Conference Three
Tier 4 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:

Round 1 1st & 2nd December 2012
Round 2 9th March
Round 3 7th April
Round 4 20th April
Round 5 11th May
Quarter Finals 13th & 14th July
Semi Finals 3rd & 4th August
Final 24th August

Update: Read the RFL’s response here.

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