Challenge Cup Dilemma

nThe passage of Les Catalans Dragons to the Challenge Cup semi finals presented something of a dilemma for the RFL as to where they were going to stage the event. The answer came after this afternoon’s cup draw, with Saints playing Bradford at Huddersfield, and Warrington hosting the Catalans against Wigan.

But was that really the best solution? Two years ago it was Toulouse Olympique who booked a place in the semi finals, and the RFL elected to stage the game at that now-traditional semi-final venue, the Galpharm Stadium. At the time some people felt that the RFL had missed an opportunity.

With the entrance of French, as well as Irish and Russian teams into the competition, the Challenge Cup has become to some a sort of European cup competition. (I personally feel that there is more of a future for a European Challenge Cup than a European Super League.) Maybe then the semi final should take place on the continent.

Paris would be a great venue for the semi, and if history tells us anything (the crowd for Paris Saint Germain’s debut was over 17,000) this game would be something of a draw. Even better for the Catalans would be to stage the game in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. The only objection to the latter would be that allowing the Catalans to have the game in the regional capital might be like giving them a home draw, on paper at least.

The major advantage to this would be hosting the semi in a major European capital. Perhaps if the other semi were held in Manchester, and with the final in London, this could be seen as something of a big competition in western Europe.

But, of course, we must remember one important thing: the Challenge Cup semi finals are not a big draw. In fact, far from Paris or Barcelona, the semis three years ago went to Widnes and Warrington. No disrespect to those fine clubs or their excellent stadiums, but it would be nice to see a slightly more ample-sized venue for the semi finals of a major competitions.

Perhaps, and following the example of both National League Finals Day and Millennium Magic, the best solution would be to host both semis one after the other at a decent-sized stadium. And, let’s be honest, the only way to ensure a large enough crowd at the moment is to keep such an event in the heartlands – Galpharm Stadium once again.

This isn’t exactly unfair on the Catalans. They showed their willingness to travel by entering the engage Super League, while whoever is paired with them in the draw has shown no such thing.  Besides, the Catalans would have great support up here – from their opponent’s rivals. You only have to look at the way British fans spurred New Zealand to victory against Australia in that Tri-Nations final at Elland Road.

Far from taking the cup to a Europe-wide audience just yet, we have to be building up the profile of the semi finals as an event, because at the moment they don’t rate as highly as they should. Once that is achieved then we can try something ambitious – just as the RFL did with the final itself in taking it to Wembley for the first time all those years ago.

More internationals needed

In a week’s time Great Britain will be taking to the field against France at the Headingley Carnegie Stadium. Tony Smith has named something of an experimental squad for the game, and that would be the course that most people would want him to take. This is a good opportunity for new players to be given a chance to show what they can do on the international stage.

But this is of course missing the point of introducing these mid-season internationals. And that is to give the players that are going to make the final squad a run-out before the final thing. Perhaps it would be best to host another game to test the senior players as well as the youngsters.

The only problem with that is getting a quality international opponent. That would involved persuading Australia or New Zealand to make the trip to the northern hemisphere, which would be easier said than done. Hopefully the French national side will show some improvement, and give us a competitive opponent on our doorstep.

“No” to judicial review

An interesting debate on Last Tackle Forums was about the influx of overseas players into our game. The consensus view was that while top foreign players add something to the game, importing players who are no better than native British players is a little bit pointless, and does harm to youngsters’ development.

The only problem is that there is nothing that the RFL can do to reduce the number of such players coming to play here. A letter in ’League Express’ this week called for the RFL to stop the ridiculous situation where players come off the quota just because they’ve got a European passport.

But the RFL of course can do nothing. It is quite illegal for them to take players with European passports off the quota. If the RFL did do this then a club wishing to sign such a player and finding they could not would simply take the RFL to judicial review, and the RFL would be forced to allow it to happen. I personally don’t think this situation would do any good.

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