The Rugby Football League (RFL) have today announced that the Challenge Cup final will move from August to July as of 2020 and that, for 2019, a new domestic competition for teams outside Super League will commence.
The 1895 Cup will comprise of all teams outside of the top flight and will give those teams in the Betfred Championship and League One a chance of playing at Wembley, given that the final of the competition will take place as part of the build up to the Challenge Cup final. It will give those teams outside of Super League a more realistic chance of playing in a showpiece final than they have in the Challenge Cup and will no doubt excite players and fans of the clubs involved. “This innovation makes that dream of Wembley much more realistic and achievable,” Ralph Rimmer, the RFL’s CEO, told the media following the announcement. “It’s a recognition that the game has changed since the onset of full-time professionalism in the Super League era, meaning that for a good number of the Championship and League One clubs who have won the Challenge Cup in the past, reaching Wembley currently seems a distant dream,” he added.
The event will culminate it’s first outing on August Bank Holiday weekend next year but, as of 2020, it will be moved forward as the Challenge Cup final moves from it’s now customary slot at the end of August to mid-July with Saturday 18th July being confirmed as the date for the 2020 Challenge Cup Final. Since being moved in the mid-noughties to towards the end of the season, the Bank Holiday weekend has often proved unpopular with fans who experience difficulties getting to London due to railway and road maintenence often being undertaken at such a time. That has led to attendances dropping in recent years and, while the presence of Catalans Dragons in this year’s final no doubt hindered it, a seventy-plus year low of 50,672 has clearly triggered the decision in the RFL’s mind.
The organisation has also extended it’s deal with Wembley Stadium to host the Challenge Cup final at the national stadium, something Rimmer was delighted about. “This is a significant and exciting day for the Challenge Cup, and the game’s relationship with Wembley Stadium,” he outlined. “Next year we will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the first Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in 1929. Rugby League is proud of the length and strength of that association. We are therefore delighted to confirm the extension of that relationship until 2027,” Rimmer added.