New Challenge Cup format, hopes of a Kangaroos tour and War of the Roses day – Paper Talk

James Gordon
Challenge Cup

A change to the current set up of the Challenge Cup seems inevitable in IMG’s new era.

In recent years, only four non-Super League clubs (five when Toulouse were in the top flight) have remained in the competition when the top flight 12 join.

That has denied lower league, and even community clubs, the chance to play against Super League sides.

It is thought that a group format involving 24 teams is being proposed for the future – with eight groups of three, guaranteeing every side two games and at least one at home, and the group winners progressing to the quarter-finals.

Question marks remain as to whether it would be purely an open draw (Wigan and Warrington in the same group anyone?) or if it would be seeded to ensure Super League clubs are kept apart.

There is a suggestion in League Express that the draw could be regionalised, to help maximise attendances.

As Martyn Sadler writes in his column: “The problem is, though, that the attendances have fallen away so badly that the Cup is no longer coming across on TV as well as we would like it to.”

Kangaroos tour

The ‘healthy prognosis’ of International Rugby League’s annual report, as described by Phil Caplan in the latest Forty-20, may be read a lot differently in light of last week’s disastrous news around the cancellation of France 2025.

Someone, somewhere has to rescue international rugby league from itself, though all may not be lost.

Following the confirmation of England’s test series against Tonga – although it won’t include any games with France – it appears there will soon be an announcement surrounding what happens in the southern hemisphere.

A Four Nations series involving Australia, New ~Zealand, Samoa and either Fiji or Papua New Guinea has been touted; though that could become two separate Tri Nations series, with the first three going up against each other, and Fiji and Papua New Guinea being joined by Cook Islands.

Caplan teases: “A first Kangaroos Tour to England and France since 2003 is also currently being discussed for 2024. If the Australians do not want to travel north a year out from another World Cup in this hemisphere, however, there is increasing interest from Samoa to follow in Tonga’s footsteps.”

The change in World Cup venue for 2025, and possibly even its delay to 2026, could increase the chances of Australia coming over.

They were due in 2020 before COVID wiped out what promised to be a momentous series.

Multi-tier War of the Roses suggestion

A War of the Roses series, that could incorporate a separate game for Championship and League 1 clubs, has been suggested by Batley chairman Kevin Nicholas.

As reported in League Express, Nicholas says at least one War of the Roses game should be played at Super League level, with a separate match involving players from the lower divisions.

He even suggests a women’s game, and also that Lancashire and Cumbria should team up to face Yorkshire, given the weight of clubs in each area.

War of the Roses often gets a mention at this time of the year as rugby league continues to search for a representative match in mid-season that will attract the crowds.

The recent mid-season international saw England thump France 64-0 in both men’s and women’s matches, in front of 8,422 at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.

Flops and laughing stocks

Toronto Wolfpack managed to get hit in the crossfire of Garry Schofield’s rant about the cancellation of the World Cup.

He rightly slammed the organisation of it all, from the failed North America bid to the latest disappointment.

And he described the Wolfpack, and Paris St Germain, as flops.

Schofield wrote in League Express: “I saw Brian Noble on the BBC bemoaning the loss of opportunity to make the France national team stronger, but that’s a million miles away.

“Other than in a few areas, there’s just no appetite for our game over there.

“Let’s not forget how Paris Saint-Germain flopped in the early days of Super League, just as Canada’s Toronto Wolfpack did more recently.

“We’re scrambling around trying to find another venue for the World Cup, and at real risk of becoming a laughing stock, if we aren’t that already.”

MORE: Challenge Cup quarter-finals draw made

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