Why the 1895 Cup can create a new generation of dreamers

Never having been a Challenge Cup final at Wembley is probably not the best thing for a rugby league journalist to admit.

But that’s my story. The dream has always been to walk up Wembley Way with my dad and watch our team together, and make the memories that he was able to during his younger years.

The chances of our team ever making the Challenge Cup final are getting increasingly remote, but an appearance in the new 1895 Cup final at Wembley is a tangible target for anyone outside Super League now.

Announced on Tuesday, the 1895 Cup will include Championship and League 1 clubs with the final being played on Challenge Cup final day at Wembley.

It is a long overdue return of an alternative competition for lower league clubs, following the unceremonious abolition of the Northern Rail Cup in 2013.

That tournament enjoyed a 12 year run in which it really grew in popularity and provided some great opportunities for clubs to have their big day out in Blackpool, where the final was held.

Most notable, perhaps, was Batley’s win over Widnes in 2010, while the Vikings’ win in 2009 effectively put them on the road to Super League for 2012, given winning it was one of the on-field requirements to join the licensing process.

Doncaster, Whitehaven and Barrow all reached finals, while Leigh won the tournament four times.

At Blackpool, crowds averaged around 8,000 and the hope is that the new competition will provide a boost to the flagging Wembley crowds of late.

Not only does it give fans something to dream of, but players too. No matter who you play for, you can now feasibly dream of running out at Wembley, even if you are a part-time player at an unfashionable club.

It’s a fine move from the RFL to do this and it deserves credit. Ralph Rimmer has copped some criticism in some quarters, but for me has always been pragmatic and passionate about the game, and this is probably the finest instance so far of acting in the best interests of the game and in response to fan feeling – together with bringing the cup final forward.

A number of people are taking credit for the original idea, though it is clear that it is a great idea and a popular one.

You only have to look at football, which provides players at all levels the chance to aim for Wembley – be it the FA Cup, play-off finals, EFL Trophy for Football League clubs, FA Trophy for non-league clubs or FA Vase for amateurs.

The finer details of the format are yet to be confirmed, with the only information so far that it will comprise of 16 clubs – 12 from the Championship (Toronto and Toulouse not featuring) and four from League 1.

How the League 1 clubs are selected is unknown, though perhaps a group stage similar to the old Northern Rail Cup could be created to give everyone a chance. It would also solve the problem that there are only 20 games in the regular season for those clubs at present.

The knockout stages of the competition are likely to be held in midweek, and what a terrific addition to the rugby league calendar these would be.

Live Wednesday night games in May, June and July between top Championship teams with a place at Wembley up for grabs sound like they would capture the attention of not only the fans of the teams playing, but perhaps Super League fans looking for their rugby league fix.

Midweek games are something we rarely see in rugby league these days, and while some may point to the part-time nature of the majority of non-Super League clubs, it doesn’t stop semi-professional football players playing virtually every Tuesday night through the winter.

The dream is still on.