Before the advent of Super League, the beginning of the Challenge
Cup would be a much looked forward to event but is it just me or has
it lost its sparkle?|
Attendances would seem to suggest so. A
fortnight ago we had a Super League clash at Leeds which attracted
a crowd of 18,769. A cup tie between the sides last year saw only
9,612 turn up. Why did almost 19000 choose to go for a league
match played in cold wind and hail but half didn't bother on a
Saturday afternoon when it was blazing sunshine for a cup tie?
There's an article in this weeks League Express paper
which makes a
good point about the BBC not helping with their sporadic scheduling.
In the winter days the cup rounds were always played two weeks
apart so excitement could build. This year we have 3 week
gaps up to the Quarter Finals then we have an 8 week gap
before the Semis. 8 weeks between rounds - that's rubbish! It just
can't build up excitement being spread out like that.
It's not just that - it is quite clear that we simply do not
have enough competitive teams to warrant a cup competition.
National League sides simply cannot compete with Super League
sides anymore and hence high floggings are the norm.
To put forward a point, I've picked up a random
old Rothmans book to look back at an old round 4.
1993-94 Round 4 Results (Positions are end of year finish)
Barrow (11th Division 2)
Bradford (2nd Division 1)
Batley (4th Division 2)
Keighley (6th Division 2)
Bramley (15th Division 2)
Widnes (10th Division 1)
Carlisle (13th Division 2)
Workington (1st Division 2)
Castleford (4th Division 1)
Salford (11th Division 1)
Doncaster (2nd Division 2)
Dewsbury (7th Division 2)
Halifax (5th Division 1)
Warrington (3rd Division 1)
Highfield (16th Division 2)
Whitehaven (10th Division 2)
(5th Division 2)
St Helens (8th Division 1)
KR (15th Division 1)
Ryedale-York (9th Div 2)
Hunslet (14th Division 2)
Oldham (13th Division 1)
London (3rd Division 2)
Featherstone (11th Div 1)
Rochdale (8th Division 2)
Leeds (7th Division 1)
Sheffield (6th Division 1)
Leigh (16th Division 1)
Swinton (12th Division 2)
Hull (9th Division 1)
(1st Division 1)
Wakefield (14th Division 1)
Look at most Division 2 sides there and although there have
been some ties against each other most of them have competed and
had a good afternoons entertainment. For example, Bramley taking
Widnes all the way - Hull KR being pushed by York. St Helens were
even pushed by lower division opposition.
Compare that to last year. Huddersfield 74 York 4, Hull 78
Hunslet 0, Catalans 70 Featherstone 12, Leeds 72 Workington 10, St
Helens 78 Batley 14, Gateshead 4 Salford 64. Results like that are
not exciting whether you win or lose.
To be fair we had a good game at Widnes when they pushed us
34-24 but they were a professional side.
Simply put we have too many semi pro sides trying to beat the
professional sides and it just isn't going to happen. Semi Pro
sides will rarely come out on top - this was proved by Wigan in
the late 80s/early 90s.
The magic of the cup was perhaps
best highlighted in recent years by Sheffield when they beat us in
1998. But the thing is that club was dead only a year later! The
magic of cup now days is simply lost - until you get further
towards the final and even then these days it seems well second
best to the league campaign.
Anyway Wigan's cup campaign begins with the visit of French Elite
League side Salanque Mediterranee Pia - who have won a French
league and cup double for the past two seasons.
Pia is located just North of Perpignan where the Catalan
Dragons are based. They are having a good season in the winter run French
Elite League having finished second in the table. The French
regular season ended last weekend and Pia are one game away from
the Championship Final. They also reached the semi finals of the
Lord Derby Cup but were recently knocked out in the semi finals by Limoux,
who Wigan beat 80-20 in the 2004 Challenge Cup.
player to watch out for is half back Maxime Grésèque. The French
international will be remembered for his two tries in the mid
season test match at Headingley last season. Grésèque also had a
loan spell with Wakefield on the back of that performance but only
played 1 match - a 42-24 home loss to Hull. He also had a loan
spell at Featherstone in 2004. It won't be the first time he's
faced Wigan. Back in 2002 he was part of the UTC side that Wigan
hammered 72-6 in Perpignan. Grésèque will kick the goals for Pia
and is also there second top try scorer.
Top try scorer is
winger Paul Franze who has scored 26 in 21 matches for them this
campaign. Australian, Franze is only 26 but offers big experience
to the French outfit having played in both the NRL and Super
League. His career path though has been weird to say the least. He
began playing lower grade rugby at Cronulla. He broke into the
first team during 2002 but in early 2003 he suffered a bad knee
injury which ruled him out for 18 months. He later joined Penrith
before having a crack at Rugby Union in England with London Irish. Franze though wanted to return to Rugby League and joined
Castleford's 2006 relegation campaign. He joined mid season and
played only three games before deciding Castleford was not for
him. He returned home and for 2007 he was signed by Newcastle -
ironically to replace ex Wigan player Brian Carney. He played
throughout 2007 but his contract wasn't renewed and now he minds
himself at Pia. Clearly he is a man who doesn't like to
After that there's not too many
recognisable names although one for radio commentators to look out for
in Sylvain Fruteau de Laclos.
Should be a good game. But Wiganers
are clearly expecting a walkover. I've heard that ticket sales
have only just creeped over 3,000 which highlights how an expected
cup walkover is simply not an interesting prospect for 2/3 of our
season ticket holders. Eh well you read all about it on here
From a Wigan point of view it'd be
nice to see one or two youngsters get a run out. Some fans are
wary that we would be showing some disrespect in doing so but you
have to remember we
are playing a side that struggled past Gateshead.
Lets just hope Pia come here with
better knowledge of the game than Carcassonne who, my grandad was
telling me, came to Wigan in 1947 for a tour match and turned up to play with one of those little mini rugby balls you
give the kids lol. Full Back at the time Jackie Cunliffe was
having none of it and took the ball off them and threw it into the
terraces! The match was played in a snow storm and apparently the
Carcassonne full back Puig Aubert kept catching the ball
one-handed because he was holding a cigarette in the other hand! I was
going to say that they are a weird bunch them French - but it
turns out Albert was actually a German!!