Challenge Cup - History

History

The clubs that formed the Northern Union had long been playing in local knock-out cup competitions under the auspices of the Rugby Football Union. However, the rugby union authorities refused to sanction a nationwide tournament, fearing that this would inevitably lead to professionalism. After the schism of 1895, the northern clubs were free to go-ahead, and they instigated the Northern Rugby Football Union Challenge Cup. In 1896 Fattorini's of Bradford were commissioned to manufacture the Challenge Cup at a cost of just £60. Fattorini's also supplied three-guineas winners' medals then valued at thirty shillings.

The first competition was held during the 1896–97 season (the second season of the new game), and 56 clubs entered to compete for the trophy. The first final was held at Headingley in Leeds, on 24 April 1897. Batley defeated St Helens 10–3 in front of a crowd of 13,492 (see picture). It is interesting to note that the St Helens side did not play in a standardised team jersey.

The competition was later interrupted by World War One, although it was held in 1915, when the season that had begun before the war was completed. It was then suspended until the end of hostilities. Initially, the final tie was held at one of the larger club grounds in the north, however, noting the excitement in Huddersfield that the town’s soccer team were playing at Wembley in the FA Cup Final and the increasing difficulty for any of the rugby league grounds to satisfy spectator demand to see the final tie, the rugby league authorities voted 13–10 to relocate to the recently built Wembley Stadium in London, aiming to emulate the FA Cup's success and to put the game on the national stage.

The first final held at Wembley was in 1929 when Wigan beat Dewsbury 13–2 in front of a crowd of 41,500. At the start of World War two, rugby league suspended its season immediately, but the Challenge Cup took a single year’s break before restarting, on a limited basis and with the support of the authorities, as part of keeping up morale. The Challenge Cup finals, which took place in the game’s Northern heartland, got big crowds as the game raised money for Prisoners of War and for Lord Beaverbrook’s armaments programme.

In 1946, the Lance Todd Trophy was introduced and awarded to the man of the match. The first winner was Billy Stott of Wakefield Trinity the first winner of the trophy on the losing team was Frank Whitcombe of Bradford Northern in 1948. In itself, it is a prestigious trophy presented only at the Challenge Cup Final. The winner is selected by the members of the Rugby League Writers' Association present at the game and the trophy is presented at a celebratory dinner at The Willows, home of the Salford City Reds.

1954 saw the Challenge Cup final drawn and the replay set the record for a rugby league match attendance. The match was on 5 May and 102,569 was the official attendance at Odsal Stadium, although it's believed that up to 120,000 spectators were present to see Warrington defeat Halifax 8 – 4.

Wigan are well known for their successes in the Challenge Cup competition, having won more Challenge Cups than any other club with eighteen Challenge Cup final wins.

Until the 1993–94 season there were very few amateur clubs included in the cup, typically two. For part of the 1980s and the 1992–93 season the cup was solely for professional clubs. The competition was then opened up to large numbers of amateur clubs as part of a deal between the Rugby Football League and British Amateur Rugby League Association over bridging the gap between the professional and amateur leagues.

The move to a summer season for rugby league in 1996 did not see the Challenge Cup moved, and it became instead essentially a pre-season tournament, with the first Summer Cup Final held earlier in the season, on 27 August at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

In 1997, a Challenge Cup Plate took place for teams knocked out in the early rounds of the competition. The final took place at Wembley and was won by Hull Kingston Rovers who beat Hunslet Hawks 60–14.

The last cup final before Wembley's redevelopment saw the first appearance of a team from south of the Watford Gap, when the London Broncos were beaten by a record margin, 52–16 by the Leeds Rhinos.

The redevelopment of Wembley Stadium led to the Cup Final utilising a variety of venues. The final is one of the biggest rugby league events of the year in Britain, along with the Super League Grand Final. The Challenge Cup final traditionally formed the end to the season, being played in late April or early May.

There was a belief that the Challenge Cup final taking place early in the season had led to a decline in the prestige of the cup, so the timing of the competition was altered in 2005

On 26 August 2006 St Helens scrum-half Sean Long became the first player in the history of the Challenge Cup to collect a third Lance Todd trophy following his man-of-the-match performance in the final against Huddersfield Giants. His other Lance Todd trophy wins came in the 2001 and 2004 Challenge Cup Finals.

From 2009, the television rights to the Challenge Cup were sold to Australia's leading rugby league broadcaster, Channel Nine, as part of a new 3 year contract.

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