Thursday, 30 May 2019

Sunday's Coming: The 1895 Cup

A RUM DO:  The ill-fated
Captain Morgan Trophy.
Way back in 1973, the Rugby League had a brilliant idea.

It thought it saw an 'imaginary void' in the season's already busy fixture list (back then teams played 30 games in a league season, plus the Challenge Cup, Plus the Players No.6 Cup, plus the Lancashire Cup). To fill this 'void' they concocted a meaningless knock-out competition - The Captain Morgan Trophy (sponsored by the, then, 'sophisticated' Rum brand).

The draw went like this: to the eight winners of the first round of the Yorkshire Cup, were added
the seven winners of the first round of the Lancashire cup PLUS the Lancashire team losing in the first round by the smallest margin.

To try and force a bit of cross-pennine rivalry into an already convoluted format (and to increase the chance of a Lancs v Yorks final) the Yorkshire sides and the Lancashire/Cumbrian sides (who played in the Lancashire Cup), were drawn into two 'pools' of games that kept the two groups apart in Round one.

Hornets' involvement was brief. First Division Hornets went to Second Division Workington in Round One - and lost. 22-13.

The final between Warrington and Featherstone was played on a Saturday afternoon at Salford in front of 5,000 barely interested fans. The Wire won a tryless game 4-nil. It was a metaphor for the competition.

Reports say that the competition 'failed to catch the imagination of the public, or the clubs themselves' - code for 'it was a rubbish idea that no-one wanted'. The Captain Morgan Trophy was scrapped after one season.

Fast Forward to 2019 - and the Rugby League has had a brilliant idea.

It thinks it's seen an imaginary void in the fixture list . Into this void it's crowbarred the - as yet unsponsored - 1895 Cup. And, like it's rum-flavoured predecessor, it has a beautifully convoluted format.  In round 1 eight League 1 teams played in a knock out round. Round 2 sees teams from the Championship - minus Toronto and Toulouse - chucked in with the winners from round 1.

But that's not the best of it. Not only are the RFL going to drag it out for five rounds, the final will be played at Wembley. After the Challenge Cup final.

Yes. After.

So while the Challenge Cup final's losing fans have already baled for the coach home and the winning fans have decamped for the nearest pub to celebrate, two unlucky Championship/League 1 sides will get to see their teams run round in an empty Wembley whilst the BBC packs away the cameras.

THE SWEET F.A. CUP: No prize money.
Straight from the RFL's Operating Laws
Given this, the 1895 Cup is clearly named after the anticipated attendance for the final. And if the thought of playing in an empty Wembley doesn't thrill you, it's worth noting that "... There will be no prize money in the first year, but gate receipts up to and including the semi-finals (but NOT in the final) will be shared in accordance with Challenge Cup rules." So getting to the final will ensure clubs incur a huge cost in transport and accommodation. Seems like getting canned in the semis is the best option financially.

Speaking of which...

The RFL launched this "... exciting new chance for players and supporters to taste the magic of Wembley...." (Ralph Rimmer, November 2018) without contemplating that two Championship sides might still be involved in the ACTUAL 'exciting chance for players and supporters to taste the magic of a relatively full-(ish) Wembley': Bradford and Halifax involved in an upcoming all-championship Challenge Cup Quarter Final - just 160 minutes away from Wem-ber-lee's main event.

So could Bradford and/or Halifax go all the way to the final of both?

Yeah, but... no, but...

Obviously the RFL has hacked together a beautifully labyrinthine solution. If Bradford or Halifax get to the semis of both competitions "... the 1895 Cup semi-final will be put back until the Wednesday after the Challenge Cup semi-finals (to be played on Saturday July 27) – so if the Championship club then lost their Challenge Cup semi-final, they would have a second chance to reach Wembley via the 1895 Cup."

"If a Championship club was to win their Challenge Cup semi-final, then the loser of the other 1895 Cup semi-final (to be played on Sunday July 28) would get a second chance on the Wednesday (July 31)."  Got that?

RECYCLED: The iPro Cup is back, everyone!
And what of the1895 cup itself? You'd imagine that such an exciting new competition would warrant an exciting new trophy to cement its status within the game. No such luck. Eagle-eyed Rugby League geeks will have noticed that the 1895 Cup is, in fact, the old iPro cup with a new logo stuck on it.

The iPro cup was retired after just three seasons after clubs voted to scrap it because it interfered with the domestic league season.

Sound Familiar?

Hornets travel to Batley on Sunday in Round two of the 1895 Cup. See you there.