Will Challenge Cup magic move south?

The Leeds Rhinos made history last week as they cruised to a 50-0 Challenge Cup Final win over the Hull Kingston Rovers.

Whilst not the most exciting decider that we have seen in recent memory, it is yet another chapter in the long and wonderful history of the Challenge Cup.

The prospect of the lower league minnows taking down the top-flight competition heavyweights is a rugby league fan’s dream.

Fans in the Northern Hemisphere are treated to it every year, but will Australia and New Zealand ever witness something like the Challenge Cup, in all its prophetic glory?

Will the magic of the Challenge Cup move south?

It is doubtful, given the significant differences in the make-up of the two rugby league structures, but one can dream.

In England, the sudden-death competition runs from February to August. Whilst the format changes slightly each year, teams are drafted in to the Challenge Cup from a range of competitions.

Forty amateur teams play in the first round of the competition, with the twenty winners advancing to Round 2. The winners then proceed to Round 3, where the fourteen League 1 clubs enter the draw. The twelve Championship teams enter the competition in Round 4, playing against the twelve winners from the third round. Super League teams enter the fray in the fifth round, when the top-flight competition’s bottom four teams join the twelve fourth round winners. The top eight Super League teams then enter in Round 6, doing battle with the eight winners from the fifth round of the Cup. Then we host the Quarter Finals, the Semi-Finals, and the Final.

So if Australia and New Zealand were to follow that same competition structure, where are the teams pulled from?

Queensland Cup teams seem a viable option, the only major hurdle being there is a chance that players may come up against an NRL club that they are contracted to. All clubs operate as their own entity (admittedly still serving as feeder clubs to NRL sides), with their own names and colours.

The inclusion of new Queensland Cup franchise the Papua New Guinea Hunters would work wonders for the only country in the world that identifies our game as its national sport.

The New South Wales Cup doesn’t quite work as well, with the majority of teams operating under the same name and colours as their NRL side – hence, we could see Newcastle play Newcastle, or the Bulldogs line up against the Bulldogs. Some sides would come in to consideration, however, with the likes of Norths, Newtown, Mounties, Wyong, and Wentworthville operating in a similar fashion to Queensland Cup clubs.

To cap it off, we must head to the local leagues, and keep an eye out for the bush team dying for a crack at the big smoke. Last year, Football Federation Australia followed in the footsteps of England’s Football Association by implementing the ‘FFA Cup’.

Competing from the Round of 32 are the ten A-League teams, with the remainder made up of sides who have advanced through various preliminary rounds, structured in a number of ways.

Following a similar structure, a Challenge Cup in Australia and New Zealand would see the sixteen NRL clubs, thirteen Queensland Cup sides, up to six NSW Cup teams, the seven NZ National Competition outfits, and a number of amateur teams.

Imagine the magic of seeing the Queanbeyan Blues face the Canberra Raiders at Seiffert Oval. It was after all the Blues that fathered the Raiders in the early 1980’s.

A criticism of the FFA Cup at present is that the Final doesn’t have a permanent home. If we were indeed serious about building up the prestige of this tournament, the biggest game would need just that. Fans in the United Kingdom make the annual pilgrimage to Wembley Stadium for the Challenge Cup Final.

The best option in the southern hemisphere is Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. For years, rugby league diehards north of the border have been calling for the NRL decider to be shifted to Queensland. No, a sell-out is not guaranteed.

You’re living in Brisbane, would you buy a ticket to if the Broncos didn’t secure a spot in the Final? Maybe not in the early days, but in time, who is to say that support for this competition can’t be on par with that of the Challenge Cup in England?

With a permanent home for the Final, marketing should be far more effective, opening the door for more tickets to be sold in what could build up to be something unbelievably special for rugby league.

Will the magic of the Challenge Cup move south? As a diehard in the southern hemisphere, I hope so.

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