It was a spectacular weekend for the Challenge Cup! We take a look at the five main talking points…
Semi-final double headers need to stay
The semi-final double header at the University of Bolton Stadium was absolutely fantastic, and that’s not an over exaggeration. There were 26,086 people, a sell-out crowd, inside the home of Bolton Wanderers FC.
Rugby league fans are just great because they all get along with each other in the terraces and some even have a beer together. From the press box, it was clear to see that the majority of fans loved it on Sunday and we want more of this. It is an event, just like Magic Weekend, but a bit closer to home with games that mean a lot to the towns, clubs, fans and players.
McNamara has worked wonders
Wow. The job that Steve McNamara has done with the Catalans Dragons has been nothing short of sensational. He deserves every bit of credit that he receives.
When the French side were sat second-bottom in the Super League table after winning just two of their first 11 games, people were calling for him to get the sack. However, Catalans owner Bernard Guasch stuck by McNamara through the tough times and the club are now reaping their rewards. With the help of a couple of class signings in Josh Drinkwater and Kenny Edwards, Catalans have now secured a spot in the Super 8s and are 80 minutes away from Challenge Cup glory at Wembley. Fair play, Steve and Bernard.
Charnley for England?
Josh Charnley has been incredible since his return back to rugby league. There were a lot of people who were saying that the 27-year-old would not come back as good as he left the sport in 2016, but he has proved every single one of them doubters wrong.
The ex-Wigan Warriors star has scored 19 tries in 18 games for Warrington so far this season, but it isn’t just his prolific try-scoring ability that stands out. He is huge personality in the dressing room according to Steve Price and the players which is always good for morale and his carries out of yardage are impressive. If you were picking an England team based on form, Charnley would be in it.
A long and winding road for Leeds
Leeds Rhinos face a very, very difficult end to the season. They crashed out of the Challenge Cup semi-finals after losing 48-12 to Warrington Wolves on Sunday.
Not many were surprised by the fact that Warrington were the winners due to the current form of both sides, but some were surprised by the manner of Leeds’ defeat. They had a strong team out on the field and a side capable of beating Warrington, so the injuries line shouldn’t be used by anyone.
The current Super League champions will now compete in the Qualifiers for the second time in three years. On paper, they no doubt have the best team in the competition, but games aren’t of course played on paper.
They face tough and nervy trips to London, Widnes and Halifax and have to face the likes of Toronto and Toulouse at home. They need to make sure they stay in the top-flight for next year, because they are too big a club to go down, but something needs to change and fast. They need to get the blend of youth and experience right.
RFL face sales headache
The scenes at the University of Bolton on Sunday when Catalans Dragons reached the Challenge Cup final were unbelievable.
It was probably welcomed by a lot of fans that a team, outside the ‘big four’, have reached the ultimate prize in getting to Wembley.
However, it was probably not welcomed very much by the Rugby Football League’s sales and marketing team! They now face a mammoth task of filling the national stadium.
Catalans are getting very good crowds at their Stade Gilbert Brutus home at the minute, but let’s face it, they will probably only bring 500 to 1,000 fans on August 25, whereas their opponents St Helens would have brought at least 20,000.
With the final being just three weeks away, they need to come up with plans to involve not just French folk, but rugby league fans in general. Whatever the attendance is, the game promises to be a cracker, so let’s all get behind it.