BBC hits the mark with Challenge Cup coverage

It can often seem like rugby league people find it hard to give praise when it is due, certainly in recent years, when the default position of many in the game has been one of (often justified) cynicism and suspicion.

But one body which deserves great credit for the way that it has treated rugby league this year is the BBC.

Their coverage of the weekend’s Challenge Cup ties was excellent, at both Headingley and Belle Vue.

The decision to use current players as pundits is a masterstroke. Of course, they have chosen some of our game’s most articulate and charismatic personalities, in the shape of Jon Wilkin, Jamie Peacock and Eorl Crabtree, along with the ebullient Robbie Hunter-Paul.

But the way those personalities are used, where their expertise is teased out of them in a cheery yet informed manner by the likes of Mark Chapman and Tanya Arnold, is high quality broadcasting.

Brian Noble adds an older, wiser presence, giving a coach’s perspective in measured, good humoured tones. The presenters and pundits all seem to genuinely like each other too, which helps.

The coverage also made use of dressing room cameras, pre-game footage and colour pieces presented by players, which all served to help make the sport the star.

The focus was actually on our game’s biggest assets – the players and what they do on the pitch.

Referees were a footnote, stats an understated and informative tool, and the sense of occasion was sensitively handled, with a good eye on the game’s heritage.

Commentator Dave Woods is an infectious presence, his almost child-like enthusiasm for the sport rubbing off on all around him. He always sounds like a man who is amazed he gets to do his hobby for a job, and wants everyone to know how happy is.

Woods likes to talk about the action too, not endlessly mouthing off about refereeing decisions in the manner of a soccer fan.

Overall, the presenters, pundits and commentators feel like a team, rather than a set of verbose individuals competing for attention.

The coverage manages to be both understated and fresh, there is none of the flashy gimmickry of other stations.

The BBC has been accused, with some justficiation, of not treating our game with suitable respect in recent times.

Their Challenge Cup coverage shows that someone, somewhere in the corporation, seems to at last be getting it when it comes to rugby league.

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