The 18th Man: What could be done to brighten up the Cup?

Oliver Gildart scored a stunning try against Salford
Oliver Gildart scored a stunning try against Salford

Our 18th Man panel discuss the Challenge Cup and Michael Maguire's appointment to New Zealand

The Challenge Cup – would you change anything to give it more sparkle?

Sean Lawless: It would be great to see the Super League clubs enter the competition earlier to give the opportunity to the smaller clubs to host the likes of Wigan.

A Newcastle v Wigan, Coventry v Wigan, York v Wigan type of fixture could have huge benefits to those League 1 clubs off the field, but the current structure only allows perhaps one or two lower division sides to get through to potentially face a larger side. It has basically become a Super League randomised play-off competition.

Ben Reid: It’s always a good topic this one. Since I’ve been watching rugby league, the Challenge Cup has never really felt like this huge, spectacular event – even more so since it’s move into the new Wembley. I don’t like that stadium at all. I’ve been there three times watching Wigan in Challenge Cup Finals.

Obviously, it’s always a good day if you win, but I can’t say I fully enjoy the whole Wembley experience. I’m just not a fan of the ground, the surrounds, or the bloody prices inside. You only have to look at the dates from now on – sixth round May 12-13, quarter-finals June 2-3, semi-finals August 4-5, final August 25.

There is a two-month gap in between the quarters and semi-finals, it’s a joke. They don’t seem to care much about the Cup anymore – and I believe the fans are going the same way.

I believe a fresh outlook on the competition is needed, meaning more realistic and fan-friendly dates, while also changing the final location.

Jon Lyon: It’s hard to see what more could be done to “brighten up” the Challenge Cup. I was always a big fan of the cup final being held in May, but clearly with the timing of the start of the season it would be hard to fit all the rounds in before May now, and Magic Weekend has settled in nicely to that spot in the calendar.

For me the Challenge Cup Final is a much better day out and experience than the Grand Final, even if the trophy seemingly means less to most. Short of bigger names for the pre-match entertainment, or maybe when it has taken off enough, the Women’s Challenge Cup Final as a precursor, there is not too much more the RFL could do without turning it into an American-style over the top show.

Darren Wrudd: The essence of the Challenge Cup is all the sparkle that it should need, but unless we sing it from the rooftops, it seems that it can be very difficult to get these messages out beyond the rugby league fraternity.

I will keep on banging the drum for more publicity.

A great start would be to get a person of note to present the trophy at the final.

Prince Harry would be a wonderful choice and give such kudos to a fantastically historic competition.

The draw for this round of the Cup was done live on Chris Evans breakfast show and I thought it was a great idea.

It is this kind of publicity which increases the overall awareness of the competition and that will generate the hunger to see more about it.

David Bailey: For me the Challenge Cup has lost it’s sparkle because it’s far too easy for the top eight Super League sides to get to the final. Although I understand the need for some type of seeding (West Wales are playing in league 1 and have just conceded 124 points and 144 without reply in consecutive games) I still think there needs to be more of a mix of teams, rather than just eight teams to be given the opportunity of playing the big guns.

The Challenge cup is to rugby league what the FA Cup is to football and there needs to be that romance where a league 1 side can mix it against a
Super League giant, preferably at home. I still think it needs to move in the calendar as well. Why not just have a run of games from the quarter finals to the final in the space of a few weeks rather than a long wait to the final?

Robert Kenyon: I’d revert the final back to May, go back to the old format too, I’d move it from the BBC to Sky and have Matchroom (Eddie Hearn) promote it.

The BBC do nothing to promote the sport and for that reason the Challenge Cup is a shadow of its former self but in my opinion it’s held in higher regard than the Grand Final. Sky don’t do a great deal for Super League but it would still get more exposure on there than the BBC.

I’d revamp the whole commentary team but maybe keep Mark Chapman. Robbie Hunter-Paul really needs to go along with Wilkin, Crabtree, Noble, Davies. Dave Woods does ok but he doesn’t have that much of a distinctive voice in the way Ray French had. The Challenge Cup is a bit like ‘A Question Of Sport’. Big in its heyday but is still being run by out of touch, old big wigs at the BBC devoid of any ideas post 1992.

The Challenge Cup does not need the powers that be conducting a major overhaul because they’ll only make it worse, they just can’t help themselves.

In my opinion it just needs tweaking here and there. Go back to how it was (May Final), change who shows the comp on TV (Sky), promote it (Matchroom) and add a new commentary team (Andrew Voss anyone?).

I’d also bring out a fly on the wall documentary about the teams competing, that will generate interest. Like Salford FC did in the FA Cup, that brought a lot of interest in them. Rugby League Raw used to be a great spectacle and I think that is something that we are missing.

What are you hoping and expecting from Wigan when they travel to injury-hit Hull KR on Sunday?

Sean Lawless: Resting Sean O‘Loughlin last week against Salford perhaps indicates how Wigan are treating the Hull KR game on Sunday – very seriously. Wigan will be keen to get a good performance and result on Sunday to progress in the competition but to also act as a springboard for the Magic Weekend game against Warrington, which is looking tastier and tastier as each week goes by.

Ben Reid: I’m hoping for a straight forward win and easy route to the quarter-finals. But knowing Wigan, it will be none of those two this Sunday. I vividly remember our shocking exit from the Cup a few years back against Hull KR at Leigh Sports Village. We were favourites that day and went crashing out to the eventual finalists.

They have a few out, as do we. The difference is that we have much more quality to come in and replace those few injuries. We lose Burgess, bring in Davies. We lose a player like Sam Tomkins, bring in Escaré. We’ve got a countless number of young forwards who have stepped up lately – like Hamlin and Navarette. Hopefully a few young guns get a chance to impress. It’s funny with these games, because I never like to rest too many, but sometimes you have no choice. Let’s hope for another good Cup run, one that starts with a convincing win at KCOM Craven Park.

Jon Lyon: I would have expected Wigan to beat a full strength Hull KR side, so with the return of O’Loughlin and Liam Farrell, and the problems Hull KR are having, I would be disappointed if we don’t come out of this game with anything less than at least a 20 point winning margin.

Complacency should be all that stands between Wigan and the next round of the cup. Competition for places should ensure everyone is on top of their game.

Darren Wrudd: Beware the wounded Hull KR. It is going to be their best 17 versus our best 17. I would expect Wigan to beat them comfortably, but only if our players are committed to doing just that.

I still don’t think we have totally got out of the habit of doing just enough to get through. When other teams would push the advantage and batter the opposition, we can be guilty of almost relaxing when we think the game has been won.

We will need to focus on getting the win at all costs and booking our way to the next step of our trip to Wembley. I think we need to make a statement and put on some points, then let the other teams dread drawing against us in the next round.

David Bailey: I probably sound like a stuck record on this one, but once, just once I want the Warriors to put in a controlled 80 minute performance.

Granted the attacking threat has been blunted with the long term absence of Joe Burgess but Wigan are still showing signs of clicking into gear and racking up a big score if they can maintain focus for the full 80 minutes. Salford were very disappointing last week and I only remember them venturing into the Wigan 20 once or twice. It’s remarkable that Wigan are in touching distance of Saints and even the points difference isn’t that superior considering Saints have dished out a couple of hammerings. Of late, and I just feel that if Wigan hit some form, even Saints would struggle to hold them.

Add into the mix that Hull KR have a crippling list of absentees including key players like McGuire, Blair, Lunt, Clarkson and Minns and all the signs are pointing to a healthy Warriors win. That being said, you never know what the cup will throw up and I’d take a scrappy one point win to get into the draw for the next round.

Robert Kenyon: I hope to see a complete whitewash of Hull KR. The Robins are threadbare and it will be a good game to blood some youngsters and top of my list would be Sammy Kibula, maybe a few more.

Is Michael Maguire the right man for New Zealand?

Sean Lawless: One thing that Michael Maguire seemingly guarantees is a) a culture change and b) almost instant success. A culture change is perhaps the key issue that NZRL needs after the World Cup and we saw at Wigan and observed at Souths, that Maguire is the man for that. He also has a good record of delivering success with a Super League, Challenge Cup and NRL title to boast. One thing is for sure, Bennett versus Maguire makes for a great test series at the end of the year.

Ben Reid: I’ve not watched much of the NRL in the past year, so I’m unsure of how well teams are going at the minute. What I do know is how much of a good coach Maguire was at Wigan. He brought some for the best days for me as a Wigan fan, and was our best Super League coach up until Shaun Wane took over the reins.

I know Maguire suffered badly last season, being sacked from Souths after having a real stinker of a season, winning just the nine games from a possible 24. With the squad he had at the club, a lot more would have been expected from him. I’m sure Maguire himself would have been disappointed with his last season at the club.

He’s still a top manager, one that can get the best from a good group of players – and that is what he would have down at New Zealand. It’s an exciting job to take on, and definitely a challenging one. I’m sure he’d do a great job down there, and if they gave him enough time, he could bring some really good days to those New Zealand fans.

Jon Lyon: I would have thought a New Zealander should have been first choice for the job but there is a lack of standout candidates.

It sounds like Maguire and Laurie Daley were the final two choices, and I imagine Daley would be the more inspirational leader for international rugby, but Maguire has proven at Wigan and South Sydney Rabbitohs he has what it takes to win trophies.

He should certainly shore up the New Zealand defence, although his defensive structures will be harder to impose as he only has limited time to work with his players during the year.

If New Zealand can sort out their defensive frailties then the natural attacking talent they possess should ensure they again become a force to be reckoned with, presuming more players don’t defect to Tonga.

Darren Wrudd: I think that Michael Maguire could well bring a little of the old fire in the way the New Zealanders play their game.

Always a tough team to beat, David Kidwell seems to have taken them into a more structured style and lost some of the biff that they always brought to the party.

Knowing how Madge coaches with commitment and ferocity to the forefront of building a squad, he could be just what they need to step up once more.

He came to Wigan and made a massive impact from the off, at South Sydney he did much the same – taking the title for the first time since 1971. If he has the same impact on the Kiwis, the end of year test could be a tough prospect indeed.

David Bailey: The job is almost a poisoned chalice really as you are only qualified as a success if you manage to win the World Cup or beat the Aussies, and you are deemed as a failure if you lose face to England (and soon to be Great Britain). Maguire will be looking to instil a culture change and turn them into winners once more and I wouldn’t bet against him to pull it off.

Robert Kenyon: I think it’s what they need now, they need a good dose of discipline and Maguire will provide that. I just think he’d need to be wary of player power, he is Australian so an outsider straight away.

He will need to be on the front foot otherwise he will be out of a job again in 18 months. But to be honest, I think he’s taking the job as a stop gap anyway. I can see him back in Super League in the next few years.