Catalans Dragons WILL enter Challenge Cup as new sponsors revealed for competition
Sam Tomkins will get the chance to help Catalans defend their Challenge Cup after the RFL reached an agreement with the holders.
The Dragons' participation had been in doubt following a row over a £500,000 bond which they were asked to front - a request which was criticised by many in the game, including Tomkins who left Wigan for the south of France in the off-season.
But the Rugby Football League today says they will defend the trophy "after reaching an agreement with the French club", without saying if it had backed down.
There has been no mention of whether Toronto Wolfpack will now be allowed in - they withdrew after also being asked to front a bond, to cover any potential loss of revenue should they progress in the competition.
The RFL revealed the development during an announcement that bookmakers Coral will sponsor both the men’s and women’s Challenge Cups in a two-year, seven-figure deal.
The two competitions will come together when the Coral Women’s Challenge Cup Final shares the stage with the men’s semi finals in a triple header at the University of Bolton Stadium on Saturday July 27.
The men’s Coral Challenge Cup Final will be held at Wembley Stadium on Saturday August 24.
“This is a really significant day both for the Challenge Cup, and for women’s Rugby League,” said Ralph Rimmer, the RFL chief executive.
“The men’s Challenge Cup is one of the iconic competitions and trophies of British sport, with more than 120 years of history, and the famous Wembley final televised live to the nation and the world by the BBC.
“The Women’s Challenge Cup may not have that history, but Coral’s enthusiasm for it to be part of a joint sponsorship deal confirms our determination that it is set for a really exciting future.
“With Coral’s name now linked to both the men’s and women’s Challenge Cups, it’s equally exciting to be able to extend the double header for the men’s semi finals that proved such a big hit last year, and now incorporate the Coral Women’s Challenge Cup Final.
“The University of Bolton Stadium proved a popular venue for the sold-out double header last summer, so we’re delighted to be going back for a triple header in 2019.
“We are confident that thousands of the supporters of the teams who reach the semi finals of the men’s Coral Challenge Cup will also take the opportunity to watch the outstanding spectacle provided by our best women’s teams – and that will ensure their skills and athleticism are seen by the record audience they deserve.”
Catalans - and Wigan - will enter the competition at the sixth round stage in May, having finished in the top eight of the Super League in 2018. The teams who finished in the bottom four will enter in the fifth round in April.
The Road to Wembley begins this weekend, with 52 community clubs competing in first-round ties from Portsmouth to Wallsend, and featuring Sunday’s meeting on the Cumbrian coast between the oldest amateur club in the country, Millom, and the Challenge Cup newcomers Red Star Belgrade – which will be streamed live on the BBC Sport online platforms.
The Trans-Pennine battle between Orrell St James and Holmfirth’s Underbank Rangers will be shown live on the RFL’s Our League membership App and Website the previous day.