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We seem to hear it every year. Clubs complaining about losing their star players come rep season.
As it stands, players selected for representative duties are unable to play for their respective clubs the weekend before a State Of Origin game. The players go into camp and prepare for the big game.
Some clubs are more disadvantaged than others, with the likes of the Cowboys, Broncos and Dragons having a larger representation. At the moment some clubs are fortunate enough to get a bye the weekend before Origin, meaning their rep players would not miss a game for their clubs.
But what will happen in 2007, when the Gold Coast franchise is admitted to the Telstra Premiership. There will be no bye. There are some rumours that the dreaded split round will return. Hopefully not.
So why not bring back the Challenge Cup? It could be held on the weekends before the State of Origin games. The Telstra Premiership could take the weekend off. This would allow clubs like the Broncos, Cowboys and Dragons to have their rep players available for every Telstra Premiership round, and not miss a game when Origin duty calls.
The English Super League stops their competition for big matches and Challenge Cup qualifiers. It seems to work well for the clubs up there. The Challenge Cup games could be played in the Country, Interstate areas or even the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea. The crowds at club level usually drop off when the rep season starts. Playing these games in different areas would generate big crowds and would help spread Rugby League to a wider audience.
The first knock out cup was held in 1974 and was played mid-week. The winners that year were Western Division. In 1990 the Challenge Cup changed from mid-week to a pre-season cup. The last Challenge Cup was held just over 10 years ago. Most of the games where played in country areas and used to pull big crowds. The last Challenge Cup Final in Australia was won by the Brisbane Broncos in 1995. The Broncos defeated the Cronulla Sharks 30 - 14 in front of a packed crowd of 15,178 at Lavington Sports Ground in Albury.
Sadly though, the cup was scrapped in 1997, because of the Super League war. So why not bring the old Challenge Cup format back? The revival of the annual City vs. Country match has worked, so the revival of the Challenge Cup could work too.
It would create a lot of interest for lower place teams who have no chance of making the top 8 in the Premiership. TV would still get their ratings, with competitive games on every weekend and the NRL would have no problems finding a major sponsor for the event.