AS much as I love the Challenge Cup, I just can’t get excited by the current format and do fear for the prestigious competition’s future.
Essentially, it might as well have ditched its 118 years of history and simply be re-named the Super League Cup in 2015.
I understand the desire perhaps to relieve some of the playing pressures on the sport’s leading clubs given the on-going debates about burnout and standards of matches dropping due to there being so many players operating on one leg or with just a solitary arm.
But by giving last season’s top eight clubs a bye into the sixth round of the Challenge Cup this time around, it has watered down the tournament.
There are only 16 clubs still going at this stage anyway and half of them have parachuted straight in from the elite. Where’s the magic, beauty and mystique in any of that?
Another three are Super League teams, too, given Hull FC, Hull KR and Wakefield Trinity all managed to overcome Championship opposition last weekend to make the draw.
Admittedly, Salford – the other bottom four Super League side from 2014 – did not prosper as their depleted ranks wilted against the force of a Leigh Centurions side who troubled eventual winners Leeds Rhinos last term.
However, that ‘success’ alone is not reason for keeping this structure alive in 2016.
There is nothing to suggest Leigh would not have seen off a Super League side earlier in the competition given the chance.
The same could be argued for any of Bradford Bulls, Halifax, Sheffield Eagles or Featherstone Rovers.
That way there would have been more chances to set up some of the ties that – though they rarely churn up shocks – at least give part-time players the opportunity to test themselves against the best there is around.
We have it in the sixth round now where York City Knights head to Super League champions St Helens, Batley Bulldogs try out Widnes’s artificial pitch and Featherstone enjoy some sun in Perpignan.
Of course, all these games could end up being utterly one-sided and they don’t come without a plethora of logistical issues, not least Fev’s game versus Perpignan.
But for those League 1 or Championship players involved, it will be a memorable experience whatever. Moreover, the fans will enjoy it, too, not least the Super League ones who get to see some different venues and opponents.
Others should get the same opportunity so let’s restore some order and make Super League teams do it a little tougher again in 2016 by playing that extra round.
Invariably the cream rises to the top but there needs to be the chance at least for surprises to occur or otherwise it is all just a little monotonous. Boring even.
Already we have three all-Super League ties in the last 16 and there will probably be four all-Super League quarter-finals too unless Leigh spring a surprise at Wakefield.
That said, most people will have the Championship leaders as favourites in that televised game at Trinity, who are clearly struggling in the top flight.
Leeds v Huddersfield? Hull FC v Castleford? Wigan v Hull KR?
I’m sure there could be some fine Cup ties in there but we see them all the time in Super League, too.
This has been a tweak too far.