2019 saw a new lower league cup competition introduced in the shape of the 1895 Cup.
Later sponsored by AB Sundecks, the Final took place after this year’s Challenge Cup showpiece at Wembley.
Sheffield Eagles won their first trophy since 2013 with a victory over Widnes Vikings at the national stadium, 21 years after their most famous afternoon at Wembley.
A competition which offers a guaranteed place at a major showpiece event played at the national stadium should have been celebrated, but the shambolic scheduling made it nothing but a sideshow in the eyes of some.
Many clubs, both in the Championship and League 1, fielded weakened teams in the competition as they focused on their league campaigns.
The two non-British sides in the competition, Toronto and Toulouse, didn’t even take part.
London Skolars, North Wales Crusaders and Coventry Bears also didn’t enter for logistical reasons.
The opening round of fixtures saw the only full round that took place on a weekend until the semi-finals stage, with some fixtures in round two and the quarter finals taking place mid-week.
The Super League sides complain if they have a turnaround from Sunday to Thursday, so why did the RFL think it was a good idea to force part-time teams to play Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday?
This scheduling saw Bradford field their youngest ever team in their second-round defeat against Barrow as they aimed to avoid a player burn-out after reaching the latter stages of the Challenge Cup.
Of course, the lower leagues had been without a combined cup competition since the Northern Rail Cup was binned back in 2013.
There was a short-lived competition for the third-tier sides, which saw the final played at the Summer Bash, but the concept was scrapped in 2018 due to fixture interference.
However, in that year there was a momentous shift in the team split in the two divisions, and only weeks before the 2018 season ended it was decided that the two teams would be promoted from League 1 and none relegated, which meant there’d be 14 teams in the Championship and 12 in League 1.
This later became 11 teams in the third tier as Hemel Stags announced in October that they would be leave the league and look to re-enter in 2020.
It has since been announced that the Stags franchise will be relocated to Ottawa, Canada.
This has seen League 1 sides go from 13 home league fixtures to 10 in a matter of months – that’s a good chunk of the fixtures wiped out.
So, wouldn’t the 1895 Cup be more effective as a third-tier competition only, with a group stage of two groups of four and one group of three, based on geography, similar to the Northern Rail Cup groups?
The winner of each group would be followed by the best second-placed team to make up the semi-finals.
Here’s how that might look in practice:
- Group 1 – Barrow, Workington, Newcastle and Keighley
- Group 2 – Hunslet, Doncaster, North Wales and Rochdale
- Group 3 – Coventry, London and West Wales
It’s a simple solution to a problem of the governing body’s making.
The 1895 cup in its current format does give the lower league sides the opportunity to showcase their skills on the biggest stage, but in front of a largely empty stadium.
This season’s Championship favourites London Broncos have decided not to take part in this season’s competition and they’re a team based six miles from Wembley!
I think that says a lot about what some of the clubs think of the competition.
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