Challenge Cup game bizarrely kicks off without referee

Today Edinburgh Eagles hosted Saddleworth Rangers in the Betfred Challenge Cup in a game made available on BBC iPlayer.

It was a prime example of how special rugby league’s oldest and most prestigious competition is as it extends across the country and even sees clubs very rarely spotlighted thrust into the lime light.

This year’s tournament has taken us from Ireland to Scotland and today Edinburgh were hoping to progress to the next round up against Saddleworth.

As the game entered the second half the next step of the story was set to be written to determine if the Scottish side would progress into the next round a bizarre incident took place.

The second half kicked off and a number of tackles were made until the linesman scampered onto the field and halted play.

Why? Because the referee wasn’t on the field and the game had kicked off for the second half bizarrely without an official.

You can watch the moment here.

It will be interesting to see if we continue to see fixtures like this in the years to come with IMG set to re-imagine rugby league including the Challenge Cup.

In an update from RL Commercial, they said:

“I think looking ahead at ’24 there will be some differences to the domestic calendar, the Challenge Cup being a key part of that. That was part of IMG’s recommendations, one of the key pieces of work in the off-season has been around what does 2024 look like.

“I think moving the date from August, when traditionally a lot of people are away on holiday, is probably a good starting point.”

Speaking of starting points, their is an aim to give a real starting point to the Challenge Cup:

“I also think there’s an element of bring the Challenge Cup back in the sixth round, in terms of it has felt over the last couple of years that the sixth round has just landed and appeared. We haven’t started the competition off with a bang as it were, that’s something else that we’ve been looking at.

“How can we provide a starting point to the Challenge Cup, rather than it just falling between rounds five and six of Super League?

“That’s how I’d differentiate potentially what’s going to happen going forward, and I think the other bit is probably the decline of the Challenge Cup has been in some part down to the creation of Magic, which we all know is kind of up for debate in terms of loop fixtures. There’s a multitude of ingredients that could change the fortunes of Wembley.”

These comments brought on the question of then why is the final in August this year:

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know. That was in the diary before I started at RL Commercial, I would assume it’s around Wembley availability and something they might have later on in the August.”

There is also a lot of talk around the new format of the Challenge.

RL Commercial confirmed that there are six formats being considered including the Champions League format with clubs put into pools.

They said: “There are six solutions at the moment that we’re working through, I think two of the six will be viable and two we’ll take forward in a bit more detail. Of the six your example (the Champions League) is there within those six.”

It was also confirmed that the two-legged ties pitched had been vetoed.

In terms of today’s Challenge Cup results, Dublin City Exiles made an impressive return to the Betfred Challenge Cup after a 20-year absence, beating Hammersmith Hills Hoists of the Southern Conference League by 42-8 in Chiswick in one of several eyecatching First Round results.

The Irish club have booked a return trip to England in a fortnight, as the Second Round draw has handed them a trip to Orrell St James, who earned a battling 16-4 win at Distington in Cumbria in the First Round.

There was no progress for the Scottish and Welsh representatives in the First Round, although Edinburgh Eagles competed strongly against Saddleworth Rangers in a tie shown live by BBC Sport before going down 20-30 at the Royal High School, and Rhondda Outlaws claimed a couple of tries as tangible reward for their marathon journey to Hull Dockers, going down 54-10.

But there will be three representatives from the Southern Conference League in the Second Round, after the 2022 Grand Final winners Wests Warriors claimed a significant scalp with a 26-16 win at Skirlaugh, the renowned Hull community club.

Warriors will now have home advantage against their local rivals London Chargers, who beat North Herts Crusaders 32-12 in an all-SCL First Round tie, while Brentwood Eels beat Bedford Tigers 34-24 in their Challenge Cup debut to earn a Second Round tie at home to Wath Brow Hornets – a monster journey for the West Cumbrian club.

Two of the Armed Forces teams in the competition have secured Second Round spots, with the Royal Navy beating Barrow Island 28-16 in Portsmouth to earn a trip to North Wales Crusaders, and the RAF winning 36-24 at Doncaster Toll Bar – they will now host York Acorn.

The British Army were beaten 28-12 in Aldershot by Ashton Bears, who now have a home tie against the semi-professionals of Dewsbury Rams, while Great Britain Police claimed a 20-6 win at Featherstone Lions and now play Westgate Common – who beat Crosfields 36-18.

Ince Rose Bridge won a thrilling local derby at Wigan St Patricks in front of a four-figure crowd and cameras, and now have a trip to Workington Town in the Second Round.

There are two First Round ties to be played on Sunday, in North Yorkshire and the North-East: Heworth versus Oulton Raiders, and Jarrow Vikings versus Myton Warriors.

Betfred Challenge Cup First Round results:

West Bowling 30 Waterhead Warriors 12

Royal Navy 28 Barrow Island 16

Edinburgh Eagles 20 Saddleworth Rangers 30

Brentwood Eels 34 Bedford Tigers 24

British Army 12 Ashton Bears 28

Fryston Warriors 38 Thornhill Trojans 22

Skirlaugh 16 Wests Warriors 26

Westgate Common 36 Crosfields 16

Distington 4 Orrell St James 16

Doncaster Toll Bar 24 RAF 36

Featherstone Lions 6 Great Britain Police 20

Hull Dockers 54 Rhondda Outlaws 10

Stanningley 38 Milford 4

London Chargers 32 North Herts Crusaders 12

Wigan St Patricks 22 Ince Rose Bridge 30

Hammersmith Hills Hoists 8 Dublin City Exiles 42

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