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Challenge Cup Semi-Finals make history for the wrong reasons

Challenge Cup

This weekend’s Challenge Cup semi-finals went, largely, according to the script. Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves went into their respective games as favourites with the bookies. They both duly delivered, knocking out Hull KR and Huddersfield Giants in the process.

However, what was unusual was the margin of victory in both games. Both Wigan and Warrington ran up huge victories, winning their games by over 30 points. Large margins of victory are obviously uncommon in semi-finals, however, the data shows just uncommon they are with 2024 being the first time this century that both semi-finals have been won by such a huge margin.

Since 2000, there have been only nine semi-finals where the margin of victory has been more than 30 points, including the two this weekend. Prior to this round, only seven semi-finals of 48 played this century have seen such a wide margin of victory.

In a weekend where low Challenge Cup attendances have brought the prestige into focus, these two significant victories pose fresh questions for Rugby League’s domestic cup competition. Is the cup losing its sparkle, or is this a freak occurrence?

Contrasting result to the 2023 Cup semi-finals

Hull KR

Credit: Imago Images

The margins of victory in this year’s competition are in stark contrast to the 2023 competition, where the two ties were much closer. Last year, the margin of victory across both games was just three points, compared to a whopping 68 points this year.

Brad Schneider broke Wigan’s hearts at Headingley last year. Appearing on loan for Hull KR, in a repeat of this year’s semi-final, Schneider inspired the Robins to a famous victory.  With the game tied 10-10 at full time, Schneider’s 35-metre drop goal sealed a place at Wembley for KR.

In last year’s other semi-final, Leigh Leopards shocked St Helens, winning the game 12-10. It was the first time Leigh had reached the Challenge Cup final since 1971. The Leopards would go on to beat the Robins to lift the trophy after a thrilling final.

Attendances across the two games were down by around 2,000 fans this year, with the Warrington and Huddersfield game attracting fewer than 10,000 fans. The silver lining was provided by a strong television audience, with Saturday’s game securing an audience share of nearly 10%. If the Challenge Cup is to succeed in attracting bigger crowds in the grounds, there needs to be fewer blowouts, and more games like those seen in 2023.

The nine Challenge Cup semi-finals in the 21st century where the margin of victory was over 30 points

Challenge Cup

Credit: Imago Images

Warrington Wolves 46 Huddersfield Giants 10 (2024)

Two tries from full-back, Matt Dufty, helped the Wire book their place at Wembley.

Wigan Warriors 38 Hull KR 6 (2024)

The Warriors dominated a fiery encounter, thanks to two tries each for Jake Wardle and Abbas Miski.

Warrington Wolves 48 Leeds Rhinos 12 (2018)

Warrington booked a final against the Catalans Dragons, with a spectacular solo try from Chris Lineham the pick of the scores.

Warrington Wolves 56 Wakefield Trinity 12 (2016)

The Wolves hammered Wakefield, with nine different try scorers at the Leigh Sports Village.

Wigan Warriors 70 London Broncos 0 (2013)

Wigan recorded the largest-ever Challenge Cup semi-final victory, with Pat Richards scoring two tries and kicking 11 goals.

Warrington Wolves 54 Catalans Dragons 12 (2010)

Another entry for Warrington, who saw off the Catalans Dragons thanks to a hat trick from Louis Anderson on their way to retaining the trophy.

St Helens 50 Hull KR 0 (2006)

St Helens secured their sixth final in 11 years, seeing off Hull KR, securing the second-highest semi-final margin of victory in the process.

Leeds Rhinos 56 Toulouse Olympique 18 (2005)

Rob Burrow scored 20 points to inspire Leeds to a huge victory in Toulouse.

St Helens 46 Huddersfield Giants 4 (2004)

Two tries each for Ade Gardner and Jason Hooper confirmed Saints’ place in the 2004 Challenge Cup final.

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