The Rugby Football League has confirmed not only the date for the 2019 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium connected by EE – Saturday August 24 – but also a July date for the 2020 Final, a new long-term agreement with Wembley, and a new competition – the 1895 Cup.
Tickets go on open sale today for the 2019 Wembley Stadium showpiece, along with dates for the eight rounds on the Road to Wembley – which will begin next month with the draw for the First Round to be played on January 26-27.
But for supporters of Championship and League One clubs, there’s an extra reason to make a note of Challenge Cup Final Day – as they will have a second chance to reach Wembley next year, in the 1895 Cup.
Full details will be announced with the Betfred Championship and League One fixtures on Sunday week, but the clubs have agreed after a meeting last week to introduce the new competition.
All but one of the 12 English Championship clubs have previously won the Challenge Cup, sharing a total of 30 Cup wins – from Batley, who were the first winners in 1897, to Bradford Bulls, the most recent to do so in 2003.
In addition three League One clubs – Hunslet, Oldham and Workington Town – are also former Challenge Cup winners, although in Oldham’s case famously never at Wembley.
But only Sheffield Eagles and Bradford have played in a Challenge Cup Final at Wembley during the Super League era (since 1996), and none of the Championship or League One clubs have reached the new Wembley Stadium since the Challenge Cup Final returned to its spiritual home in 2007.
The introduction of the 1895 Cup means that there will be three Finals at Wembley Stadium next August – as the Steven Mullaney Memorial Match (the RFL Champion Schools Final for Year 7s), which has long been established as a popular curtain-raiser to the Challenge Cup Final, will also remain a key part of the day.
The RFL have also extended their partnership with Wembley – which has staged 76 Challenge Cup Finals since the first between Wigan and Dewsbury in 1929 – until 2027, which will therefore be the 85th at the Stadium.
Next year’s Challenge Cup Final Day will stick to what has become a regular place on the calendar, the August Bank Holiday Weekend. But in 2020, there will be a move forward to Saturday July 18.
Ralph Rimmer, the chief executive of the Rugby Football League, said: “This is a significant and exciting day for the Challenge Cup, and the game’s relationship with Wembley Stadium.
“Next year we will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the first Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in 1929. Rugby League is proud of the length and strength of that association – Wembley Stadium has been the setting for so many of the greatest matches and memories in the game’s history, with Catalans Dragons writing another chapter when they became the first overseas club to win the Cup earlier this year.
“We are therefore delighted to confirm the extension of that relationship until 2027.
“We believe the introduction of the 1895 Cup will give that relationship another boost. It’s a recognition that the game has changed since the onset of full-time professionalism in the Super League era, meaning that for a good number of the Championship and League One clubs who have won the Challenge Cup in the past, reaching Wembley currently seems a distant dream. This innovation makes that dream of Wembley much more realistic and achievable.
“We’ve seen in football, with the EFL Trophy that was introduced for teams for the third and fourth tiers of their professional structure as the Associate Members’ Cup in 1983, that the introduction of a realistic additional chance to reach Wembley can have a rejuvenating effect on clubs.
“With the 1895 Cup, we want to recognise the contribution of our non-Super League clubs to the game’s history since its founding as the Northern Union 123 years ago – and provide an exciting new chance for their players and supporters to taste the magic of Wembley.
“With the Steven Mullaney Memorial Match continuing to provide a unique opportunity for some potential future stars to play at Wembley Stadium, we’ve tried to create a Challenge Cup Final Day package which will breathe new life into Rugby League’s big day out.”
Confirmed Challenge Cup Round Dates:
Round 1 – 26th/27th January
Round 2 – 9th/10th February
Round 3 – 9th/10th March
Round 4 – 30th/31st March
Round 5 – 13th/14th April
Round 6 – 11th/12th May
Quarter-Finals – 1st/2nd June
Semi-Finals – 27th/28th July
Final – Saturday 24th August – Wembley Stadium connected by EE
The draw for Round 1 of the 2019 Challenge Cup will take place week commencing December 10. Further details to follow soon.