There will be no traditional trophy presentation at the end of the Coral Challenge Cup final at Wembley due to the heightened restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Rugby Football League has confirmed plans for the trophy to be placed on a pedestal on the pitch at the end of the game between Leeds and Salford on Saturday week which the winning captain will be invited to collect.
The move, which follows precedents in other sports, is in line with attempts to reduce the amount of physical contact – the governing body has already clamped down on try celebrations – and follows the requirement for the match to be played behind closed doors.
Salford coach Ian Watson raised the prospect of a socially-distanced crowd following his team’s semi-final win over Warrington on Saturday and Red Devils fans have started a petition to support his plea but the ruling has come from the Government and a Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman told the PA news agency it was “very unlikely indeed” that an exception will be made.
Instead the final will be limited to 50 VIPs from both the RFL and the two finalists, along with a BBC crew and 25 media representatives.
It is also possible that only the two coaches will be allowed to lead the teams onto the pitch, which was the case in the FA Cup final, which would be a blow to Leeds’ hopes of giving the honour to Rob Burrow.
Rhinos coach Richard Agar dedicated Saturday’s semi-final win over Wigan to centre Harry Newman, who is sidelined with a broken leg, and to former scrum-half Burrow, who is battling motor neurone disease.
Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington backed a proposal for Burrow to lead the team out at Wembley, a role traditionally performed by club chairmen or owners, and an RFL spokesman said talks were continuing with the authorities in an effort to realise his hopes.
The spokesman said: “The RFL have been working closely for some time with Wembley Stadium and other relevant authorities about the unique logistics surrounding this year’s Coral Challenge Cup Final.
“We continue to lobby Government on this and other issues, as we share the disappointment of supporters of both finalists and the many others who would like to attend one of the great traditional occasions of British sport.
“But, with the game remaining behind closed doors for the first time in its history, this will obviously enforce significant limitations on access to the stadium and on what can happen on the pitch before and after the match in terms of the presentation of the teams and the trophy.
“As we have shown by opting to play the final at Wembley despite the absence of a crowd, we are determined to provide a fitting spectacle to reflect the tradition of the competition, to do justice to the teams involved and to the BBC television audience – which we hope will maintain the highly encouraging figures from the weekend’s semi-finals double header.”