Talking Rugby: Super League clubs entering the Challenge Cup at an earlier stage would bring more magic

A lot of debate has continued on social media throughout this week on whether Super League teams should enter the Challenge Cup earlier.

The action across last weekend demonstrated exactly why they should.

Barrow gave a fantastic account of themselves against Huddersfield Giants, and really pushed their opponents until the very end.

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Ex-Wigan man Jarrod Sammut was pulling the strings, with Ian Watson’s side enduring a less than pleasant afternoon in Cumbria.

St Helens made the trip to Whitehaven in the Challenge CupSt Helens made the trip to Whitehaven in the Challenge Cup
St Helens made the trip to Whitehaven in the Challenge Cup

The day before, Whitehaven welcomed St Helens, in another game which by all accounts was a huge success.

While it was an easy win in the end for the reigning champions, it was a great afternoon for the home fans.

It was also a good journey for the away supporters, who seemed to equally enjoy themselves, with a good drive through the Lake District in the sun being included in the experience.

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On the pitch, it was good to see Kyle Amor get the opportunity to go back to the club where his career started in a rare appearance so far this season.

He is one of a few strong Cumbrians who are currently knocking about in the game.

Whitehaven did enjoy a few strong periods in the early stages of the match, but ultimately the class and talent in the Saints squad helped them to prevail.

Nonetheless, surely if it became more common for Championship and Super League sides to go head to head, then the gap between the sides would begin to close over time and it’d become a more level playing field.

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At the moment the gap is too big between the divisions, and that could be down to a lack of exposure to some of the bigger fixtures.

With the introduction of more regular cup ties, there could eventually be some upsets down the line. .

There are some good setups in the Championship, with plenty of potential just waiting to be unleashed.

While Sheffield Eagles may have been well beaten by Hull FC, it was great to see them get a big fixture.

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Although the game had to be played at Featherstone, with their stadium still being finished, it's a city where the sport could certainly grow and generate a strong following.

It’ll be a boost for them when they do move into their new home, as well as hosting some World Cup games.

Places like York and Newcastle are similar too, in the sense that they would be great cities to have strong rugby league teams.

Once again, a way for these clubs to grow would be by giving them more regular meetings with Super League clubs through the Challenge Cup.

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While Championship clubs would benefit most, this is still a two-way street.

Wigan will go through this campaign without facing anyone from outside the top division.Following the quarter-final cup draw, they will now face Wakefield four times this season, with three trips to Belle Vue.

Of course, tedious loop fixtures can’t be helped, but a bit more variation for fans of Super League clubs would be a great addition as well.

Saints fans seemed more than eager to make the trip to Whitehaven because it was a chance to experience a different ground and atmosphere.

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There’s a reason the early stages of the FA Cup are so magical in football, and it’s because the biggest teams can end up at non-league grounds.

Rugby league needs to embrace that sentiment a bit more, because across the round of cup fixtures, it wasn’t the smaller teams who were struggling to get the numbers in.

Some of the attendances were quite a shock, but it’s understandable when cup games aren’t being included as part of a season ticket.

This seems like a bit of an own goal when it’s such a big year for the sport with the World Cup.

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Surely every step should be taken to make it as easy and accessible as possible to get fans in the grounds.

For Warrington’s game against Wakefield there was only a crowd of 2,627.

After the result, it’s doubtful that any Wire fans who didn’t attend would have regretted it.

It hasn’t been a great start for Daryl Powell as head coach.

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They started the campaign with a narrow win against a Leeds Rhinos side, which played the majority of the game with reduced numbers.

Since then they’ve been stumbling through games.

A visiting Catalans Dragons side, with men missing, overcame them, while they were brushed aside by Saints.

Back-to-back defeats against Wakefield in their last two outings, makes it four defeats on the bounce now in all competitions.

They certainly do have a great pool of talent in their squad for it might be a case of waiting for it to click.

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Meanwhile, Leeds also exited the Challenge Cup as their poor run continued.

Considering they went into the season with such optimism, the mood has drastically changed at Headingley.

Similar to Warrington, they do have good players at their disposal, so it’s just a case of getting them to click.

The appointment of the next coach is huge, just to ensure they have someone who can get the best out of their squad.

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Leeds shouldn’t be one of the teams near the bottom of the table come the end of the season, but a big improvement will be needed.

We are still in the early stages of the campaign, so there is still plenty of time for the fortunes of any team to change.