THERE was a time before summer rugby when the Challenge Cup final marked the end of the season. When the lads from ‘up North’ had enjoyed their day out at Wembley it was time to think about holidays and maybe watching a game of cricket.
Not anymore. Winners Warrington don’t have long to savour their third final win in four years and Leeds to digest yet another defeat. The Challenge Cup final is now more the entrée before the main course.
With summer rugby had come the play-offs and the big prize for both Super League and Championship teams of winning a Grand Final.
Sheffield Eagles and Doncaster have a bit of unfinished business with final league games to play this weekend before it’s into the ‘sudden death’ of the play-offs.
If Doncaster win a potentially tricky game at London Skolars, who still have hopes of a play-off place, they will take the Championship One title. They have already won promotion but the silverware would be due reward for holding off the challenge from the Cumbrian clubs.
The Eagles’ task is a bit more complicated. A season of highs and some pretty big holes has left them with a place in the play-offs guaranteed – but their final league placing undecided.
Featherstone Rovers have a third successive league leaders’ shield just about in the trophy cupboard but places two to five are up for grabs. Halifax, Leigh or Batley can finish in second - with the Fax and the Bulldogs meeting in the last round of games. That leaves the crumbs of a fourth place (and a home game in round one of the play-offs) for the Eagles if Batley lose. But the Eagles have to win at Dewsbury Rams, on Sunday, to be in with a chance.
Shouldn’t be too difficult – Dewsbury can’t make the play-offs and the Eagles beat the Rams 42-10 in the home fixture. But in recent weeks the Rams have parted company with their coach Warren Jowitt and in came former Eagles and Great Britain forward Paul Broadbent as caretaker boss. Both the Rams players and the stand-in coach have pride to play for.
Broadbent has a special place in Eagles history – he was captain for the 1998 Challenge Cup final and lifted the trophy after the win over Wigan Warriors. Nice twist that for the final league game. Thanks for the Wembley memories Paul but no room for sentiment.
So Northampton Rebels have decided not to join next season’s reconstituted Championship One. It leaves that league looking like a charity shop jigsaw with the final pieces missing.
We’ve enjoyed Wembley and there’s the excitement of the play-offs to come but that shouldn’t be allowed to mask the challenges professional rugby league faces. Why the head-long rush to push no-hopers into the professional game?
The RFL’s master plan for the game below the Super League is in tatters. It’s another fine mess the league’s highly-paid administrators have landed the game in.