Radical group plan to revive rugby league Challenge Cup and replace Super League loop fixtures
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RFL partners IMG originally suggested two-legged ties in the sixth round. That was rejected by clubs, resulting in a rethink which could see knockout ties at that stage replaced by a group format.
As an example, 24 clubs - the 12 in Super League, plus a dozen qualifiers from the earlier rounds - could compete in eight groups of three.
That would give each team two Cup fixtures, one at home and the other away and the eight group winners would then go through to knockout quarter-finals.
Cup games would be included in season tickets and partially replace ‘loop fixtures’ - when teams meet for a third time - which are set to be axed from the Super League calendar under IMG’s revamp.
It would also mean more opportunities for lower division clubs to face top-flight opposition. Currently, Super League outfits enter at the last 16 stage and last week’s sixth round featured only two David versus Goliath ties.
Hull KR saw off Championship visitors Batley Bulldogs 50-0, but second-tier Halifax Panthers gave a good account of themselves in a 26-6 loss to world champions St Helens at The Shay, watched by a healthy crowd of 4,693.
Just 4,249 attended Sunday’s all-Super League tie between Castleford Tigers and Hull FC at the Jungle and fewer than 3,000 turned out for Salford Red Devils’ home clash with Huddersfield Giants, suggesting Super League fans may prefer a Cup tie against unfamiliar opponents to facing another elite club.
Despite concern over attendances, the Evening Post understands television viewing figures were up on those for the sixth round in 2022.
The BBC One audience for Rhinos’ tie peaked at more than 600,000, making it the most watched rugby league game this season and underlining the Cup’s importance on a national stage.
The Women’’s Challenge Cup final will be played at Wembley in August as a double-header with the men.
It has already adopted a group format with 16 teams in four pools and the top sides going through to the semi-finals, which could be another option.