But is it time to look at the showpiece event, and specifically, is it time it left Wembley?
Firstly, the match itself. There is no doubting that Warrington certainly looked stunned when Catalan went ahead inside the first 5 minutes, bur from that point on, the victor was hardly ever in doubt.
Warrington looked like staging a late comeback, but the Dragons defence was strong enough to hold on for an historic 20-14 victory.
Ahead of kick off, I bumped into Alex Simmons of Rugby AM, and asked him how he felt the game would go…
As it was, Catalan Dragons went home with both the Challenge Cup and the Lance Todd trophy for Man of the Match, which is voted for by the press, went to Tony Gigot.
There had been a Twitter campaign to #LetsFillWembley but it fell someway short as the crowd of 50,672 was the lowest of the modern era. Quite a few people blamed this on the fact that one of the finalists came from France, and traditionally, the month of August is a holiday period, and the short turnaround between the Semi final and Final.
I think the Challenge cup needs a MAJOR overhaul.
Wembley is too big to stage a rugby league showpiece final.
The amount of buildings that have gone up around the stadium means there can be no fan park for supporters to mingle and to build the atmosphere ahead of entering the ground, and this is important.
When you’ve a stadium that holds 90,000, generating an atmosphere with just over half of that really takes some doing. You can’t rely on a couple of 1/2 time games and a choir before kick off to generate one. No matter how good the stadium announcer is, and in Pete Nuttall the sport has one of THE very best in the business, he cant do it if there is no crowd to motivate.
Even the small fan park at the Grand Final gets fans in the mood for what is usually a really tasty encounter, even if you’re not a fan of either team, there is always something to do and see for fans of the sport, and a decent band during the break always helps.
Wembley without a full crowd is a soulless void of concrete with a nice green oblong of grass in the middle.
Credit to those Catalan fans (and those from other clubs sporting “Dragon for a day” tee shirts) who did their utmost to create an atmosphere, but really? I’m not certain Wembley would have filled 90,000 if it had been both Hull clubs in the final, let alone Wigan v St Helens.
Its played on a bank holiday weekend during the English school summer holidays. The RFL needs to look again at perhaps moving it back to its traditional May date, and hold it away from Wembley.
The London Stadium would be a better venue.
The former home of the Olympic games has been configured for a ball game, has superb transport links, has already hosted a big rugby league event and is easily big enough to accommodate a match of the stature of the Challenge cup. It holds 57,000 people, and given the outward lack of concern from the RFL about fan numbers, it seems perfect to move the game away from Wembley, keep it in London and actually fill a stadium.
May though is Magic Weekend.
I want to see the Magic Weekend stay in Newcastle, as St James park is perfect, but I think it’ll be moved in 2019, probably to the Etihad in Manchester as part of the RFL move to the campus full time, but surely, Magic Weekend can be moved to accommodate an early season final for the Challenge Cup?
From small acorns…
There is room at West Ham for a decent fan park, as provided by Rugby AM when England played the Kiwis there a couple of years ago, and if anyone fancies a spot of shopping, there is the Westfield centre within walking distance.
Sadly, the lack of imagination from the RFL means that they won’t even consider a move away from Wembley.
Perhaps if the mooted break away from the RFL by the top flight happens it will stir some action from Red Hall, but somehow, I cant see the breakaway happening either.
For too long, the sport I love has stagnated from the top down. It’s high time that there was some new thinking at all levels.
Next years Challenge cup final?
Not unless Hull KR are playing.