Ranking every professional rugby league team in the British game by their wait for a Wembley visit

Ben Olawumi
Leigh Leopards, Leeds Rhinos, Hull FC, Huddersfield Giants at Wembley

Leigh Leopards (2023, top left), Leeds Rhinos (2020, top right), Hull FC (2017, bottom left) & Huddersfield Giants (2009, bottom right) in action at Wembley

Wembley has been an iconic venue in rugby league since the very first game was held there in May 1929, ticking past 100 games of the 13-a-side sport at the national stadium only on finals day of 2023!

Challenge Cup winners Leigh Leopards featured at the ‘new’ Wembley for the first time as they triumphed against Hull KR last year, while both Halifax Panthers & Batley Bulldogs also did the same in the 1895 Cup final which followed, with Fax taking the silverware home.

Both Wakefield Trinity & Sheffield Eagles will be ‘new’ Wembley newbies in this year’s 1895 Cup final, and the Challenge Cup semi-finals take place this coming weekend.

Add all that together, and it resulted in our cogs beginning to tick – just when did every ‘professional’ club in the British game last play at Wembley.

There are 35 clubs in total across the top three tiers – Super League, the Championship & League 1 – and below, we rank them by the time they’ve waited to play at the famous national stadium (again) from shortest to longest…

Note: On our headline, we know clubs in the Championship & League 1 aren’t ‘professional’, but they officially do compete in ‘professional’ leagues.

If we went into community clubs’ wait play at Wembley, we’d be here all day, so forgive us as we had to cut it off somewhere!

READ NEXT: Reports – Super League clubs keen to take regular season games over to the US

35. Halifax Panthers – August 12, 2023

Halifax Panthers lifting the 1895 Cup at Wembley in 2023 - Alamy
Halifax Panthers lift the 1895 Cup at Wembley in 2023

As noted above, Halifax – along with Batley – were the most recent two rugby league teams to grace the Wembley field, doing so in last year’s 1895 Cup final. That was Fax’s first trip to the national stadium since their 1988 Challenge Cup final defeat to Wigan.

RECAP: Every 1895 Cup final so far and what happened as Wakefield Trinity & Sheffield Eagles reach this year’s showpiece

= Batley Bulldogs – August 12, 2023

The Bulldogs had never been to Wembley prior to last year, losing out 12-10 with Luke Hooley missing a touchline conversion which would have seen the final go to Golden Point having trailed 12-0 with eight minutes remaining.

= Leigh Leopards – August 12, 2023

Leigh‘s only Wembley memory prior to this was their 1971 triumph against Leeds, a game which saw Syd Hynes become the first-ever man person off in a Challenge Cup final for a headbutt on Alex Murphy. Lance Todd Trophy winner Lachlan Lam wrote his name into history in 2023, becoming the first player to score the winner in a Challenge Cup final during Golden Point extra time.

= Hull KR – August 12, 2023

Unlike their conquerors last summer, the Robins had quite a bit of prior Wembley experience, though had only played at the ‘new’ national stadium once before, thumped 50-0 in the 2015 Challenge Cup final by Leeds. Willie Peters’ side will hope to create a happier memory if they reach the showpiece again next month.

RELATED: 2024 Challenge Cup semi-finals ticket update as Hull KR’s last-four clash against Wigan Warriors heads for a milestone

31. St Helens – July 17, 2021

St Helens, 2021
St Helens celebrate their 2021 Challenge Cup final triumph as Mark Percival (left side) & Tommy Makinson (right side) lift the trophy aloft in front of their supporters

With the Challenge Cup & 1895 Cup finals moving to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2022, a year is skipped on this ranking for the first time. Saints‘ women’s team of course lifted the Challenge Cup at Wembley in 2023, but their men’s team last featured under the arch in 2021 when they lifted the trophy for a 13th time having now appeared in 23 of the competition’s finals.

= Castleford Tigers – July 17, 2021

Castleford were the team they beat that day, and their only prior experience at the ‘new’ Wembley was also a Challenge Cup final defeat, losing out to Leeds in 2014. The Tigers are four-time winners of the competition, last lifting the trophy in 1986 when they pipped Hull KR 15-14 at the ‘old’ Wembley.

= Featherstone Rovers – July 17, 2021

Earlier in the day, Featherstone had lifted the 1895 Cup under the arch. All three of Rovers’ Challenge Cup triumphs, along with the two finals of that competition that they lost, came at the ‘old’ Wembley, with the most recent their 1983 victory against Hull FC. Fev also appeared in the 1895 Cup final in 2022, losing out to Leigh – then Centurions – at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

= York – July 17, 2021

A young Mikey Lewis scored for Championship outfit York in that 1895 Cup final, ultimately losing out 41-34 to Fev. The Knights are now two defeats from two at Wembley having lost 22-8 in the 1931 Challenge Cup final to Halifax. That’s York’s only Challenge Cup final appearance to date.

27. Leeds Rhinos – October 17, 2020

Richard Agar, Luke Gale, Richie Myler
Then-Leeds Rhinos head coach Richard Agar (left) & Luke Gale (right) lift the Challenge Cup trophy aloft at an empty Wembley in 2020 after their victory in the final against Salford Red Devils while man of the match Richie Myler (right) holds aloft the Lance Todd Trophy

There are very few clubs who have played at Wembley as many times as Leeds, historically featuring in the last-ever Challenge Cup final at the ‘old’ national stadium in 1999. They went five years without featuring until this last visit in 2020, lifting the cup behind closed doors during the COVID-19 Pandemic, hence the date coming so late on in the year.

RELATED: Comparing how every Super League club’s average attendance so far this year compares to 2023

= Salford Red Devils – October 17, 2020

Salford were the side they beat 17-16 that day with a late Luke Gale drop goal making the difference. As it was behind closed doors, Red Devils fans have yet to see their side play under the arch, with their last visit with fans coming at the ‘old’ Wembley in 1969. Castleford got the better of them in the Challenge Cup final on that occasion.

25. Sheffield Eagles – August 24, 2019

Sheffield are responsible for probably the biggest rugby league upset ever at Wembley having defeated Wigan in the 1998 Challenge Cup final, that their only-ever visit to the ‘old Wembley’. They then beat Widnes in the capital back in 2019 to be crowned the first-ever 1895 Cup winners and will return next month in the final of the competition when they take on Wakefield.

RELATED: Where are they now? Sheffield Eagles’ 1998 Challenge Cup winners

= Widnes Vikings – August 24, 2019

Seven-time Challenge Cup winners Widnes had no less than 13 trips to the ‘old’ Wembley, featuring in the second Challenge Cup final held there as they beat St Helens 10-3 in 1930. In terms of the ‘new’ Wembley, this is their only visit to date however, with their silverware quest unfolding following an injury to Jordan Johnstone during the final, fracturing his eye socket.

= Warrington Wolves – August 24, 2019

Daryl Clark, 2019
Then-Warrington Wolves ace Daryl Clark holds the Challenge Cup trophy & Lance Todd Trophy following their victory against St Helens at Wembley in 2019

Earlier in the day, Warrington had pulled off somewhat of a shock to get the better of St Helens in the Challenge Cup final, with the Wolves’ 18-4 success seeing them lift the trophy for the ninth time. They’re bidding for a 10th this year, and this weekend in the semi-finals are looking to book a seventh trip to the ‘new’ Wembley as well as a 14th visit overall.

22. Catalans Dragons – August 25, 2018

12 months prior, almost to the day, Warrington had been beaten by Catalans in the Challenge Cup final. Steve McNamara’s side became the first non-English team to win the competition, and to this day are still the only one. The French outfit had actually played at Wembley prior, reaching the final of the same competition in 2007 when they lost out to St Helens.

21. Hull FC – August 26, 2017

Hull have lost an eye-watering 12 Challenge Cup finals, winning five. Quite remarkably, two of their triumphs in the competition came in back-to-back years in 2016 & 2017, with the latter their 10th and most recent visit to Wembley. Having beaten Warrington the year prior, 2017 saw FC beat…

20. Wigan Warriors – August 26, 2017

Wigan, the record 20-time Challenge Cup winners. They have won the competition since this Wembley defeat, but their victory against Huddersfield Giants in 2022 came circa 13 miles North East of the national stadium at the home of Tottenham Hotspur. The Warriors – who have lost 13 finals in the competition – will look to book their spot in the 2024 showpiece this weekend.

RECAP: The last 7 major rugby league games played at Doncaster’s Eco-Power Stadium and what happened

19. Huddersfield Giants – August 29, 2009

Huddersfield Giants, 2009
Huddersfield Giants celebrate a try in the 2009 Challenge Cup final

Speaking of Huddersfield, it’s they who are the next club on this ranking and we note a quite lengthy time period between them and Wigan. That’s because the same few teams have appeared at Wembley recently. Back in 2009, in what was their fifth Wembley appearance, the Giants were beaten 25-16 by Warrington in the Challenge Cup final.

18. London Broncos – May 1, 1999

London‘s only-ever Wembley appearance came in the 1999 defeat to Leeds, that the last-ever rugby league game played at the ‘old’ national stadium. At that time, and until Leeds thumped Hull KR 50-0 in 2015, London’s defeat was the biggest-ever loss in a Challenge Cup final.

17. Bradford Bulls – May 3, 1997

One of the clubs in the game with a big history, Bradford appeared in 11 Challenge Cup finals, including six at the ‘old’ Wembley, losing four of those six with the latest a defeat to St Helens in 1997. The Bulls are yet to feature under the arch at the ‘new’ national stadium, beaten in the 1895 Cup semi-finals by Wakefield this year.

= Hunslet – May 3, 1997

Hunslet have featured in four Challenge Cup finals including two at the ‘old’ Wembley, defeating Widnes in 1934 before losing out to Wigan in 1965. Their third and most recent game at Wembley though came 32 years later in 1997 when they were beaten 60-14 by Hull KR in the final of the Challenge Plate, that the same day as Bradford’s Challenge Cup final defeat to Saints.

15. Wakefield Trinity – May 5, 1979

Wakefield Trinity
Wakefield Trinity will be returning to Wembley come June 8

Next month, having qualified for the 1895 Cup final, Wakefield will jump near the top of this ranking, but for now, having not been to Wembley since 1979, they’re 15th. Despite being in Super League so long, Trinity never reached a Challenge Cup final at the ‘new’ national stadium, but did play in six at the ‘old’ one, including their 12-3 defeat to Widnes in 1979.

RELATED: The latest LoveRugbyLeague Power Rankings – Wembley-bound Wakefield Trinity top tree

14. Barrow Raiders – May 13, 1967

Back in their heyday, now-Championship outfit Barrow got to five Challenge Cup finals, and all came at the ‘old’ Wembley. They won only one of those, getting the better of fellow Cumbrian outfit Workington Town in 1955. Barrow’s most recent Wembley trip came in 1967 when they lost out 17-12 to Featherstone.

13. Workington Town – May 10, 1958

Workington have also won one Challenge Cup, beating Featherstone 18-10 in 1952 at the first attempt. Their three appearances in the competition’s final all came at the ‘old’ Wembley within a seven-season period and having lost out to Barrow, they returned three years later in 1958 on a day which saw Wigan get the better of them. The Cumbrians have not returned since.

12. Keighley Cougars – May 8, 1937

Keighley‘s one and only Wembley appearance, at least to date, came back in 1937 when Widnes beat them 18-5 in the Challenge Cup final. The Cougars, York & London are the only three sides that have featured in just one Challenge Cup final and lost. In contrast, Rochdale & Sheffield are the only two clubs to have featured in just one Challenge Cup final but won it.

11. Dewsbury Rams – May 4, 1929

Dewsbury Rams
Dewsbury Rams in action in 2022

Spoiler alert: Dewsbury are the last club in this ranking who have actually played at Wembley, though we’d imagine very few of the club’s fans will remember their sole trip to the national stadium. 95 years ago, the West Yorkshire outfit were beaten by Wigan in the very first Challenge Cup final played at Wembley. Their name will forever be etched in the history books, at least!

RELATED: A remarkably old XIII of veterans still playing in 2024, including Dewsbury Rams’ Paul Sykes

10. Cornwall – Never

As alluded to above, there are 10 of the 35 clubs currently competing across Britain’s top three tiers that are yet to ever play a game at Wembley. The first of those alphabetically are League 1 outfit Cornwall, formed in 2021, who only entered the Challenge Cup for the first time last year and are yet to enter the 1895 Cup.

= Doncaster – Never

Doncaster, founded in 1951, have never won a major honour and have never appeared in a Challenge Cup final. Having just been promoted back to the Championship, their best run in the 1895 Cup to date came in the inaugural year of the competition in 2019 when eventual winners Sheffield knocked them out in the quarter-finals.

= Midlands Hurricanes – Never

Midlands have only been known as that since 2021, previously recognised as the Coventry Bears, which they were formed as in 1998. Under any guise, they’re yet to go further than Round 4 in the Challenge Cup, and finished bottom of their 1895 Cup group this year having decided not to partake in it back in 2019 under the Coventry name.

= Newcastle Thunder – Never

Jack Potter
Jack Potter kicks a conversion for Newcastle Thunder in 2024

North East outfit Thunder, formed in 1999 as ‘Gateshead Thunder’ following the merger between the original club and Hull Sharks (now FC) have not got close to Wembley since. After all of the financial issues they’ve faced recently, Newcastle finished comfortably bottom of their 1895 Cup group this term, and a walk down Wembley Way seems highly unlikely anytime soon.

= North Wales Crusaders – Never

Round 5 was the furthest Crusaders got in the Challenge Cup during their stint as a Super League outfit, knocked out by Catalans at that stage in 2010. Having been officially re-formed under the ‘North Wales’ tag in 2011, they’ve understandably got nowhere near the competition’s final since, and this year was the first time they’d entered the 1895 Cup – finishing bottom of their group.

= Oldham – Never

The next three teams on this list all fall in the same category having won the Challenge Cup before the finals of the competition moved to Wembley in 1929.

Oldham thrice lifted the cup, in 1899, 1925 & 1927 and ended as runners-up on four occasions prior to the ’27 triumph with the locations of their final venues including Wigan, Leeds & Manchester. The Roughyeds were beaten by York in the quarter-finals of the 1895 Cup this year.

READ NEXT: My Ultimate Team – Leon Pryce selects the best 1-13 of players he played alongside including St Helens & Great Britain legends

= Rochdale Hornets – Never

Rochdale Hornets
Rochdale Hornets celebrate a try in 2024 – Photo Credit: Rochdale Hornets

Rochdale lifted the Challenge Cup in 1922 when they beat Hull FC 10-9 at Headingley, that their only appearance in the competition’s final, at least to date. Having reached the Second Round of the 1895 Cup in 2019, they finished bottom of their group in that competition this year, so Wembley is still on the metaphoric bucket list for the Hornets.

= Swinton Lions – Never

Like Oldham, Swinton are three-time Challenge Cup winners, and ended have also been runners-up in the competition, but all five of their final appearances came prior to Wembley’s introduction. The Lions in fact played in – and won – the last-ever Challenge Cup final (prior to 2022) held outside of Wembley in 1928, beating Warrington 5-3 at Wigan’s Central Park.

Bradford beat Alan Kilshaw’s side in the quarter-finals of this year’s 1895 Cup, with Swinton – under Stuart Littler – having reached the semi-finals of that competition back in 2021 when York got the better of them.

= Toulouse Olympique – Never

In the same category but for different reasons, unless something changes anytime soon, it’s literally impossible for Toulouse to get to Wembley because they don’t compete in either the Challenge Cup or 1895 Cup by choice. Joining the British game in 2016, they played in the Challenge Cup for the first two years, reaching Round 6 at the first attempt, but haven’t partaken since.

= Whitehaven – Never

Whitehaven in action in 2023

The closest Whitehaven have ever come to a Wembley appearance was when they reached the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup in 1957, losing 10-9 having conceded late on to miss out on a spot in the final against fellow Cumbrian outfit Barrow.

Haven then lost to Widnes in the quarter-finals of the 1895 Cup come 2019, and were beaten in the play-off round of the same competition by Sheffield in 2022. This year, they finished 2nd and failed to qualify from the group stage, as Barrow progressed.

READ NEXT: Lancashire v Yorkshire – Who would win a Super League State of Origin in 2024?