Carl Ablett: Moving Cup final away from Wembley is just plain daft
ONE OF the daftest ideas I've ever heard is moving the Challenge Cup final to a smaller ground because Wembley doesn't sell out.
It has been reported as a possibility in the rugby league media and I don’t know if the Rugby Football League (RFL) are seriously considering it, but if they are they should go and lie down in a dark room until the thought goes away.
The Challenge Cup means Wembley. Things might need to be done to give the competition a boost, but taking the final somewhere else isn’t among them.
As a kid growing up I used to watch Cup finals at Wembley and I dreamed of playing there. I’ve been in five Cup finals – lost three and won two – and they are among the best moments of my career.
It would not be the same if the final was played at the Olympic Stadium or somewhere else. If we want to make the Challenge Cup a prestigious national event the final has to be at the national stadium.
There isn’t a better venue to play at, it is a special place and whenever we’ve been there we’ve got decent crowds. I have been lucky enough to play in Challenge Cup finals and Grand Finals. They are all great to be part of, but Wembley is more memorable.
There’s a longer build-up and the week leading up to it is one of the best of any player’s career. There’s more attention, with the Cup final being on the BBC, you travel down to London a few days before the game and everything has an extra special feeling about it.
I agree that the crowds at the earlier rounds need to improve, but I don’t think the competition is dying.
There’s been a buzz at training this week because we are in a Challenge Cup quarter-final and if we win our next two games in the tournament we’ll be at Wembley.
That makes tonight a huge game, but to be honest, I understand why fans might not see the early stages of the Cup as a priority.
I hope we get a big gate tonight, to create a special atmosphere and it’ll also be a financial boost for Featherstone and good for their players, but I know people don’t have a lot of spare cash and watching rugby can be an expensive business.
A few years ago Wembley was the big day or weekend out for our sport, but since then things have changed. We’ve now got at least one game a year in France, there’s the Magic Weekend and the Grand Final and the cost adds up.
Challenge Cup ties aren’t included in season tickets so that’s an extra expense and I think the authorities need to look at the cost of Cup ties and maybe think about reducing ticket prices or including games in season passes.
That might boost gates in the opening few rounds. It’s better to have 10,000 people paying £10 to get into the ground than 5,000 people paying £20.
I’d like the RFL to also think about bringing the final forward in the season, to the spring. I don’t think pushing it back to August has worked.
That’s an expensive time of the year anyway and people are away on holiday. Plus it’s only a few weeks before the Grand Final.
As we’ve found out, Wembley takes a lot out of you and – especially if you win – it is hard to get back up after the Cup final for the rest of the league campaign.
I think having the two major events close together makes it pricy for supporters and playing the Cup final earlier in the year would help spread the cost. It would also make the season more balanced, with the Cup final in the first half of the year and Old Trafford at the end.
We have had some good draws this year, with three ties at home to teams from outside Super League, but tonight is going to be a real test.
Featherstone are a good side and they are going well in the Championship. They have got some ex-Super League players and it’s a big opportunity for them.
They will come at us hard so we know we have to be switched on from the start.
It is a massively important game and we realise we could get turned over if our attitude isn’t spot on.
So, as far as we are concerned, we’re not playing a Championship team, we’re up against a good side who will be fully motivated and fancy their chances of an upset.