Challenge Cup: Lower league sides out but not disgraced

Everyone loves an underdog, don’t they?

When Challenge Cup weekend rolls around, it is always intriguing to see whether the minnows can topple the so-called ‘establishment’ of English Rugby League.

It wasn’t to be this weekend, but there were certainly plenty of positives to take away for many of the sides with ambitions of harbouring a place in Super League.

Firstly, a note to the Coventry Bears. On paper, Widnes’ 17-try rout at the Select Security Stadium might attract some sniggers from those who believe the gap between the top three tiers in England is too much.

However, just remember that the Bears have only been in existence for four years, a whole 139 years less than their former World Cup Challenge-winning hosts.

Coventry’s squad may have been outplayed on the day but, as the club said themselves, their squad of young Midlands-based players will be all the better for the experience.

To earn the right to face a Super League club is an achievement in itself for Tom Tsang’s group- one that may well encourage the next generation to pick up a rugby ball for the first time.

Aside from the Bears, wasn’t it great to see the Bradford Bulls competing at a Super League stadium once again being cheered on by the fans who travelled in their thousands?

For the 2000 and more supporters who made the trip to the Halliwell Jones Stadium, the overriding emotion will surely be one of pride, seeing a former heavyweight back where they belong.

Everything has changed at Bradford and coach John Kear knows it.

Reminders of the club of yesteryear may well still be visible around the city, but the Bulls revolution is just getting started.

Bradford have their sites firmly set back on Super League status in the coming years- with the squad they have and the loyal backing of their wonderful supporters, that could easily become a reality.

Amazing considering where the club has been in the past few years.

However, the biggest success story of the Challenge Cup fifth round was no-doubt the York City Knights, who not only took Super League Catalans Dragons to the wire but proved that they are a club most certainly on the up.

A huge credit must go to the Knights marketing team, who have demonstrated their ability to hook the interest of the local community and highlight the appetite for rugby outside of Super League on numerous occasions this season.

Their promotional work has far surpassed that of many top-flight clubs this year, and the 3000+ who flocked to Bootham Crescent witnessed a remarkably entertaining Challenge Cup tie.

Given that the Knights have already attracted a crowd exceeding 4000 against Bradford in February- a record for the club- the scope to grow the club’s fanbase and local appeal is huge.

York have proven that you don’t need vast resources to make a club marketable.

Kudos for the way they have engaged with so many groups of people across the historic city, many of whom may now be tempted to return back week after week.

For now though, they must focus on Betfred League 1 duties- most notably trying to secure promotion to the tier above.

Nevertheless, the York City Knights, along with Bradford and Coventry, have shown that the game is prospering outside of the top division – regardless of what the cup scores suggest.

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