For all money, this year’s Challenge Cup final was set to be a dull, boring contest with little interest as there was another clear favourite that no one saw losing, and an attendance figure to match the pessimistic feeling surrounding the great showpiece event.
However, despite the lowest attendance in 70 years and seemingly a mismatch in terms of quality – the Dragons losing by a large margin just two weeks prior to their final opposition – the final was actually the classic that the competition craved, and a new name was sitting on the trophy, which the sport so desperately needed.
In truth, only a select few outside of the Catalans camp gave them a realistic chance of beating a Wolves side that had ripped Leeds apart in the semi-finals and gone very well in Super League all season, sitting in the top 4 primed for a tilt at Old Trafford glory. But those outside the Catalans bubble didn’t count out the fact that they saw it as a once in a life time opportunity that they simply couldn’t afford to waste, much like the World Cup fever that gripped our country in the summer months. For them, if no-one else, they believed not only could they win but it was their destiny to do so.
Their win has been a shot in the arm not only for French rugby league, in which the trophy will be shown off to the Barcelona crowd. Tens of thousands of people will get up close, giving them their first taste of a successful rugby league team with silverware and ultimately the crowd the final so desperately deserved.
It was also a boost for the game as a whole as the new name scratched into the shiny silver surface meant new life and a freshness to the competition that hasn’t truly been felt since Sheffield’s win in ’98. Although some would argue that Hull FC’s 2016 win did a lot for their city as much as it did for the sport, particularly the manner of the victory.
The wider game has benefitted greatly from an underdog victory, so much so that Red Star Belgrade have seen this as an chance to launch their team into the historic competition asking for challengers from the lower leagues to prepare them for the potential battle in 2019. It’s seen as a huge opportunity for teams from all over the world to try their hand and maybe one day not only reach Super League, like Toronto Wolfpack hope to do this year, but possibly make a historic dent in the Challenge Cup like the Dragons have this year.
It’s a victory that has caused a wave of momentum far more than just a regular underdog story. It’s an underdog story with the ability to change the landscape of rugby league forever, we just have to embrace it and ignore those that cast doubt over the positivity of this experience because of a low attendance on the day.
50,000 witnessed a game changing moment in person, but thousands if not millions could benefit from the moment as the game finally grows.