It’s been 26 years since Wigan beat Leeds in the last Rugby League Charity Shield back in 1995. That was only the 9th game that pitted the Champions against the Cup Winners to decide who would claim the shield. Super League has never seen a game of this kind but should it have done. Should we bring back the Rugby League Charity Shield?
Back in 2019, Catalans and Wigan met in the closest thing to a Charity Shield match we’ve seen in a generation. The two met at Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium with Wigan arriving as Super League Champions and Catalans as the defending Cup holders. It drew Catalans’ largest ever attendance of 31,555.
Undoubtedly, that was a big event and drew a big crowd even though no material reward other than two Super League points were handed out to the victors in sunny Spain. It showed that there is an audience for such a battle at a neutral ground meaning the Charity Shield’s return could be used to elevate the profile of the game outside of the north. Wigan and Leeds once played for the Charity Shield in Dublin so a similar approach could be taken. It could be seen as a bit of a rugby league tour showing off the two trophy winners to entice viewers from outside the main rugby league region.
On top of that, it would give the British game another major date in the calendar. Since the start of Super League we’ve only ever had Super League Grand Final and Challenge Cup Final to look forward to. Gone are the days of the John Player or the County Cups. So, perhaps this would fill a void the sport has had since the dawn of the Summer Era.
Now some would say ‘what about the World Club Challenge.’ For many years this acted as the natural replacement for the Charity Shield but often failed to strengthen the position of European rugby. It was always played at the home ground of either the English or Australian Champions in its later years too meaning it did little to expand the profile of the game. It also looks as if the World Club Challenge’s time has come to a natural end so there is an opening for a big event at the start of the season.
However, there are reason the Charity Shield should remain in the past. It’s already claimed players are asked to play too much rugby in one season. In recent years we’ve seen the end of two games across bank holidays and even the loss of the traditional two games over Easter. Injuries have been rife over the last few seasons of Super League and many have chalked that up to the amount of games. Some have suggested Super League should follow the NRL’s approach with less games that hopefully end up being higher quality. So, would it be wise to add another game to the calendar?
Personally, I’d have the very first game of the Super League season be dubbed the Charity Shield and see the Super League Champions have home advantage against the Challenge Cup Holders. The normal 2 points to begin the season would be on offer as would the silverware. This would begin the season with a bang and catch the eye whilst giving rugby league another big date to add into the diary without forcing teams to play extra fixtures.