One-sided games aren’t confined to the cup

The scheduling of the Challenge Cup is a bit wonky. Rounds four and five were both played within two weeks of each other in May, but we now have to wait until the end of July for the quarter-finals semi-finals and final to be crammed in pretty much within the space of a month. There’s no real logic for this (I remember reading when the final was first moved to August that we’d play one round per month) and a mere three-week gap between the semis and Wembley is, as ever, far too short.

Not that any of this will trouble those fans who advocate scrapping the Challenge Cup anyway due to the recent one-sided results in the competition.

The protests started after such fourth-round results as Hull 82-0 Oldham, Warrington 80-0 Keighley and Wigan 52-0 Barrow, and only intensified after Warrington’s 112-0 victory over Swinton in round five. This has led to a number of suggestions, such as excluding the Championship clubs from the competition, excluding the SL clubs, letting SL clubs enter later in the competition or seeding SL and Championship clubs so they don’t have to play each other until later in the competition.

Much of the discussion seems to be based on a false premise: that we should expect Championship clubs to be able to beat Super League clubs. On one internet forum a poster complained that, yes Barrow had beaten Castleford last season, but “if they had came up against decent opposition – for example like Wigan this year – they would have lost”.

I’m not sure why this is shocking. It’s almost as though some rugby league fans have the idea that the Super League and the Championship are parallel leagues rather than hierarchical divisions, and as such should be roughly comparable in terms of playing ability. The same poster brushed off the impressive performances of Batley against Huddersfield and Leigh against Les Catalans by stating “but at the end of the day they still didn’t win, did they?” I can’t help but think this is a rather unreasonable position to take.

While, then, it’s unfair to criticise Championship clubs for not being able to beat sides that are by the very nature of sport itself better than them, that still leaves the sheer one-sidedness of some of the scores.

It is disappointing to see some of these results, but again they’re hardly surprising. Gateshead might have lost 70-0 to Harlequins, but let’s not forget that earlier this year they were beaten 94-0 – by Swinton of all clubs. And while Swinton’s 112-0 defeat by Warrington isn’t a desirable result from the neutral perspective, it hardly seems accurate to blame the structure of the Challenge Cup when Warrington are in white-hot form, last month handing out a 62-0 defeat to Castleford and a 42-6 beating to Leeds.

The problem of one-sided results goes well beyond the Challenge Cup. St Helens beating Featherstone 70-0 is hardly as bad as Warrington beating Salford 60-0 or Harlequins 82-6. Any solution then must go to the root of the problem, rather than concentrating solely on the Challenge Cup, maiming or killing off a valuable and prestigious cup competition.

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