Challenge Cup revamp explained: Super League entry, round dates, why changes have been made

Aaron Bower
Liam Farrell

Wigan captain Liam Farrell (centre) holds aloft the Challenge Cup following the Warriors' 2024 triumph in the competition's final against Warrington Wolves

Next year’s Challenge Cup will have a different feel to it for a number of reasons, after the Rugby Football League confirmed an overhaul to rugby league’s most prestigious competition. 

Super League clubs will enter a full three rounds earlier from 2025 onwards, after clubs agreed to change the structure of the Challenge Cup to potentially revitalise its fortunes.

Here’s everything you need to know about the changes, broken down in detail.

So what are the big changes?

Super League clubs are entering in Round 3, as opposed to Round 6 this year. That means they effectively join in at the last 32 stage now, whereas this year, they came in at a last 16 stage in which three-quarters of the clubs were Super League teams.

Now, the 12 Super League sides join 20 winners from Round 2 – which could easily be a mixture of Championship, League 1 and community clubs. Furthermore, all the Super League sides are guaranteed to be away in Round 3, meaning there are opportunities for money-spinning games for lower-league teams.

It is hoped, in essence, there will repeats of occasions from recent years like Batley versus Castleford, Bradford versus Leeds and Halifax versus St Helens.

Why have the changes been made?

Because the cup is, quite simply, a loss-making exercise for so many clubs outside of Super League on a near-annual basis. There are horror stories emerging about how clubs in Championship and League 1 actually lose money entering the Challenge Cup most years.

Love Rugby League covered that story in great detail earlier this year, underlining how the financial viability of the cup was unsuitable for teams outside of Super League operating on razor-thin margins.

This change will, in effect, now give potentially up to 12 teams from outside of Super League a shot at a money-spinning home gate if nothing else.

RELATED: Exclusive: The stark financial reality of the Challenge Cup revealed as future investigated

Can clubs switch their home tie?

They can – but it’s not necessarily expected to happen that often, if at all, Love Rugby League has been told. Technically, there is no restriction on that happening if the two clubs agree.

However, the mood among Championship and League 1 clubs was overwhelmingly positive in regards to the changes at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The general feeling was one of enthusiasm towards hosting some of the sport’s biggest games.

So in short: it could happen – but don’t expect it to.

When will Round 3 take place?

Well, here’s the thing. Nothing has been finalised as of yet but the mood music appears to be drifting towards having that round where Super League clubs enter take place BEFORE the 2025 Super League season begins, Love Rugby League has learned.

Again, it’s designed to increase take-up and crowd numbers at cup games, with the Challenge Cup now set to be the first chance to watch the likes of Wigan and St Helens play a competitive fixture every year moving forwards.

It will effectively serve as the curtain-raiser to the new season.

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