Recently, the sixth round of the Challenge Cup occurred and, since this round signalled the entrance of the top eight ranked Super League teams, it seems this stage may be the most pivotal thus far. Yet, whilst these larger, and perhaps more recognised, teams may attain the majority of the focus, this tournament seems to provide an equal opportunity for which teams of varying abilities may compete for the chance to attain silverware, with the sole aim of eventually plying their trade at the largest, and thus most prestigious stadium in English sport, Wembley. With the latter rounds now in full flow, it may be an insightful opportunity to predict who may attain a place in the final; yet, with the tournament’s most successful club, the reigning champions, and the current league leaders all in the quarter-final draw, it may be increasingly challenging to predict the victors.
The Challenge Cup seems to be the main rugby league tournament, and may be the most significant opportunity for teams to attain silverware, and write their names in the history books. The most recent team to achieve this feat was Hull who, led by captain Gareth Ellis, triumphed versus Warrington Wolves yet, since the tournament’s inception in 1896, multiple teams have ultimately claimed the trophy, and it may be this longevity, which has contributed to its reputation. Since the tournament combines professional clubs with their semi-professional and amateur counterparts, this seems to enable the sides to challenge themselves versus ever-increasing talented opposition to increase their repertoire, providing them with a platform from which they may advance their careers and attract interest from the top tiers.
Hull’s 2016 was their fourth triumph in 16 finals and, whilst this victory percentage may be bettered, the record may solely serve as motivation for them to elevate their ranking. Whilst Hull may therefore naturally be considered amongst the favourites, alongside Wigan who, as 19 time tournament victors, seem to be the most accomplished side in the competition’s history, perhaps the most proficient side remaining may be Castleford Tigers who, as current league leaders, seem to currently boast the status of the best team in the country. This, coupled with their recent 51-10 victory versus St. Helens, the third largest winning margin in the sixth round, seems to showcase their credentials. As such, Castleford seem to have showcased their strength in depth, and if their players may be able to continue to smatter the points scoring across the whole team, as they did versus St. Helens, this suggestion may be emphasised.
Originally created in a bid to create a nationwide rugby tournament, the Challenge Cup seems to have continuously innovated its format in order to ensure it remains relevant and competitive. With this year’s tournament the 116th edition, officials have now incorporated foreign teams and representatives from the emergency services, highlighting this desire to remain accessible to all. In addition, these early rounds may contribute to vast support, whilst the latter creates more revenue, providing the essential build-up for the final at a 90,000 capacity stadium. As such, this tournament seems to be vital in generating income, and thus may continue to be utilised as a welcome interval from the league fixtures, where teams from across the country may challenge each other, bypassing their contrasting backgrounds.
With the quarter-final draw made, and scheduled for between the 15th and 18th June, the teams seem to have an ample period in which they may prepare for their fixtures, and ensure they conclude the ties on the victorious side. Most pivotal though may be the television rights, with a smattering of the early rounds, along with the majority of the latter rounds, broadcast by the BBC and Sky which, whilst short-term enables the tournament to be viewed by a vast number of people, long-term may contribute to an increased level of revenue, thus allowing the tournament to continue to improve and extend it’s 116 year tenure. If this tournament may continue to progress the sport, it may ultimately lead to an elevation of its popularity, and an overtake of perhaps its more successful counterpart, rugby union.
How may Hull utilise their position as reigning champions to reach consecutive finals?