Rugby league missing a trick with immediate Challenge Cup draw

St Helens Star: Challenge Cup Challenge Cup

Hopefully, Saints will be in the hat for Sunday afternoon’s Challenge Cup fifth round draw which takes place immediately after the televised game at Huddersfield.

It seems a strange how-do-you-do that all the other round fixtures all have to be concluded in time for the draw, hence the number of 2pm kick offs.

It is ridiculous that all the other games have to be played on Friday night – not ideal for the part-timers, go head-to-head with Saturday’s Grand National or Sunday’s televised Giants v Saints clash?

What is the betting after a string of poor attendance figures from Sunday there will be the usual proclamations from the usual prophets of doom that ‘nobody is interested in the Challenge Cup’ or the whole competition ‘needs a radical overhaul’.

Rugby league craves terrestrial television exposure. We saw that in the World Cup where the BBC coverage and the tournament worked hand in glove to the mutual benefit of both.

If ever there was a case of the tail wagging the dog, this is it, and as a strategy doing the draw this way makes no sense.

Firstly, it makes life tough for all the other teams, including some who are counting every single penny; clubs with players who can’t afford to take a day off work, Secondly, as a marketing strategy, it is an own goal denying the cup a second dollop of exposure.

The immediate afterglow of Sunday should be used to reflect on that day’s thrills and spills, say, let’s allow Dewsbury their moment in the limelight after beating Wigan and finally avenging the first Wembley cup final defeat. (Well we can hope).

National newspapers will afford rugby league the same sparse inches, ditto with TV and radio sports bulletins, and those will be split between results and an add-on about the subsequent draw.

The draw always worked best when broadcast on Look North on a fixed Monday evening slot, with David Oxley, in his polo neck jumper, adding that touch of gravitas with the words: “Gentleman, the draw.”

I don’t care how low the crowds are this week – the play-off games are hardly jamming the turnstiles either but there is never the same lobby to ditch those.

The beauty of rugby league is that it is not just about the Super League and there is scope for an outsider to break in and enjoy a day in the sun – but it all depends on the draw.

Given we have five all-Super League ties in round four, some similar match ups at the next phase could allow an unfancied team to progress all the way.

And then who knows? There seems to be this idea that if the final is not played out between the big four or five then it will be a non-event.

Well the finals of 1971 (Leigh), 1983 (Featherstone), 1986 (Castleford) and 1998 (Sheffield) added to the rich fabric of the Challenge Cup they did not diminish it.

If for any reason it is not Saints running round Wembley this year, then it would be great for a team like Widnes or Castleford to roll back the years and take out this pot.

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