Earlier this week, it was announced that the Macron Stadium would play host to both Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-finals on Sunday, August 5.
The innovative new idea sees both games played in what has been billed as a ‘five-hour festival of rugby league,’ with the BBC broadcasting the event nonstop throughout the day. There have been mixed views on the concept, but fans should be praising the RFL for trying something different, rather than having gripes about the minute details of the event.
For starters, the RFL has rarely had the creativity and audacity to attempt to pull off such an event. With it being the first outing of such a showcase, we must accept that there could be minor teething problems but, if done right, the double-header has the prospect of being something special.
Staging it at somewhere like the Macron, home of Bolton Wanderers, is a wise move by those in charge. Playing at a north-westerly venue will encourage more fans from each semi-final side to attend, and can in-turn lead to a very special atmosphere.
If the event proves to be a success, there is most certainly the scope for a 2019 edition in Manchester, a 2020 edition in London and maybe even a 2021 edition in New York! There is no limit to what the RFL can do with this idea, and it may well be that it can be used as a marketing tool to promote the game in lesser-known Rugby League areas.
It is also quite a savvy move in terms of ticket sales too. Fans are sick and tired of seeing semi-finals- events which should be billed as special occasions- being half-filled in so-called neutral venues.
If Catalans Dragons overcome the Huddersfield Giants and book their place in the last four, it is highly unlikely that they will bring masses of fans over to the UK. Having all four sets of fans embarking on one venue will counteract this problem and could create a memorable atmosphere and relight the Challenge Cup spark in the hearts of rugby league purists.
Surely it is better to have a mostly-full Macron Stadium as opposed to two sparsely-seated games in, say, the Keepmoat or AJ bell Stadium?
If the sports’ governing body is to encourage more new fans to get drawn into the sport, showcasing the Challenge Cup as a well-attended, crowd-bringing, atmosphere-building event will be a good place to start.
It is certainly a breath of fresh air seeing the RFL try something different and this is the kind of thing that is needed if the sport is to develop, and indeed the Challenge Cup is to be rebranded as a big event, as it has been in known in years gone by.
There are no illusions that it is going to be a walk in the park getting a sold-out stadium, yet this does have the potential to be something exciting. Given the expansive direction that the British game is starting to take, trialling new ideas and testing the water is certainly a good way to see if there would be an appetite for such events going forward.
The RFL should be commended if the event is successful and, if fans get onboard with this type of rugby league spectacle, it could well become a regular fixture in our rugby league diaries.