Editor’s column: A Wembley Challenge Cup final is the jewel in rugby league’s crown

James Gordon

To move the Challenge Cup final from Wembley would be rugby league admitting defeat and raise serious questions about the status of the sport.

While there is understandable disappointment at the attendance in recent years, rugby league should be honoured and privileged to hold its occasion at the most significant stadium in the country, not to mention the years of history it holds for the sport.

If the sport cannot make it work in a national stadium, what does that say about its hope for expansion.

The crowd was up on last year, though in real terms only by about five thousand – if you discount the impact of the 1895 Cup final – which almost laughs in the face of the demands asked of Toronto and initially Catalans at the turn of the year.

The Wolfpack should be able to participate next season, likewise Toulouse, though the French side have been reluctant to even without a bond.

With no Wembley, the Challenge Cup final would simply disappear from the national conscience. The BBC may not even carry it.

The problem is not Wembley, nor the cup final. The problem is bigger than that.

The day needs tweaking. The 1895 Cup final should be a curtain raiser or not played at all, and the whole build-up of anthems, tributes and introductions seemed to be a little rushed, and wasn’t built up as ceremoniously as it once was.

We do appear to be a way away from the below, from 2008, which was tweeted to me yesterday.

Lots of people criticise the lack of marketing. But in Warrington, there has been plenty of exposure for the final, yet the turnout from Wolves fans was probably less than a third of what it was 10 years ago when they reached their first final in a generation.

Six finals in 11 years mean the novelty has worn off for Wolves fans, not to mention that they were underwhelming underdogs, but it’s disappointing that fans apparently get complacent or greedy with success, and I’m sure there were quite a few fans regretting their decision not to make the trip south on Saturday.

That said, finances come in to it too. Warrington have played Catalans away twice this year, there’s the Magic Weekend and then, they hope, a trip to the Grand Final.

The pool of rugby league fans, just like with players, is extremely limited and to expect the same people to turn out for every big occasion is just not feasible.

Aussie rugby league fans could learn a thing or two from the UK

A 62,000 crowd is a positive for rugby league, when you consider it has three major events in a year in the domestic competition.

It’s hard to see how that could be improved upon, without a real review of the game as a whole when it comes to ticket pricing, number of games and the structure.

Magic Weekend can go for me. How anyone can compare that occasion with the Challenge Cup final is beyond me.

Clearly it has split the decision of fans, some of which decide to go to Magic rather than the cup final, and undoubtedly has an impact on the number of neutrals attending.

But given rugby league has almost a century of history at Wembley, it would be a first nail in the coffin if it ever moved away.