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25th August 2017, 18:03 | steve_mascord
Super League’s Roger Draper raised thousands of eyebrows when he said in May: “We’re conscious that the Challenge Cup has lost its shine. It’s probably become our third biggest property.”
In Wembley week, that seems like sacrilege. Everyone is either in London or on the way there for Wigan-Hull and high on sunshine, Rugby League and joie de vivre.
And Draper’s comments must be seen in the context of hard nosed negotiations with Wembley; the context was that the Rugby Football League is considering other venues for the final.
But where does the Challenge Cup decider really rank in comparison to the grand final and Magic Weekend and – more to the point – what criteria do we use to rank them?
The first point to make is: that depends on who you are. Speaking on BBC Radio Manchester on Thursday night, decorated player and coach Phil Veivers said his view varied on which cap he was wearing.
As a player, Wembley remained a timeless experience, he said. But as a coach, nothing could beat winning the competition on Grand Final day.
What about as a fan? Does it just come down to how much fun you have? Or do you have to be a bundle of nerves to know a game really matters?
Your correspondent is a fan but I am one who has sat in the press box more often than the terraces. I’ll declare that bias straight off the bat as I rank the British game’s big occasions from three to one.
3. Magic Weekend
The strengths of the Magic Weekend are that everyone is involved. It’s a party weekend, it’s a road trip, it’s a few games of rugby where you are close enough to smell your favourite player’s armpit. But the games are just worth two points; they are not much cause for nerves or tension.
And a "property" being new, apparently, causes people not to revere it as much as they should – evidence being the grand final.
2. Super League Grand final
The Grand Final at Old Trafford is the most important game of the year – no risk. It decides who wins our most prestigious competition, Super League, is held at the most hallowed of venues in the north and the winner also gets a pass into the World Club Challenge. Some people may find it hard to accept but the entire season – every single game – is played with the objective of getting to this one event.
The only drawback: it’s primarily about the two teams who are successful in getting there, and their fans. Magic Weekend embraces everyone, as does the Challenge Cup final.
1. Challenge Cup Final
I’ve ranked the Wembley final first because it combines the best of the other two. The result matters, like the grand final, and it it involves everyone, like the Magic Weekend. And even the people who have had their arms folded for 20 years and still aren’t impressed by the GF – they rate the outcome of the Challenge Cup final because it’s been around so long. It has history on it’s side as well as tension and community.
The only drawback might be that the early rounds aren’t as high profile as they once were, the professional clubs enter the competition later and Magic Weekend might eat away at the crowd. But no-one – and no event – is perfect.