When you think about the greatest Challenge Cup semi-finals one game springs to mind. In 2003, Leeds and St Helens produced what many believe to be the best semi-final in the competition’s long history.
The reigning Super League Champions took on the unbeaten Leeds Rhinos with a place in the final up for grabs. A late St Helens try looked to have sealed a third consecutive final appearance for the Saints but Danny McGuire’s try in the corner coupled with Kevin Sinfield’s touchline conversion ensured that the 80 minutes ended with the teams all-square.
But instead of two teams boringly setting up for the drop goal, the next 20 minutes were filled with fantastic rugby. Why? Because this was in the days of extra time rather than drop goals. With 20 more minutes to play, both sides looked to play rugby, a far cry from some of the you miss, we miss drop goal competitions we now see in the competition such as when Castleford and Hull KR met earlier in the tournament.
Saints had a try disallowed early in extra time. Then Leeds nudged ahead. Granted it came a drop goal but this 1-pointer came on the cusp of halftime when all other alternatives had been exhausted.
With 10 minutes left, the game wasn’t over as both sides looked for a try that would settle the game. The battle resulted in one of the greatest cup tries ever as Sinfield burst through before finding McGuire who jinked through the St Helens cover to score the clincher – a try that wouldn’t exist if the game had gone to golden point.
These 20 minutes were an exhibition of knock-out rugby as both sides looked to score tries instead of blandly attempting drop goals. This was a much better product and one much more likely to capture the attention of the rest of the world.
Furthermore, it’s much fairer. Instead of losing because the other team were able to nick a drop goal. Even if a team does concede a drop goal in extra time, the game isn’t over and leaves both teams with conundrums to solve. Do the trailing team look to level the game with a 1-pointer of their own or do they attack. Equally, do the leading team look to defend their lead or do they attempt to kill the game as Leeds did.
Ultimately, extra time is a fairer and more exciting alternative to golden point. Moreover, it prompts better rugby as well. I’ve heard commentators say that golden point forces teams to stray away from what they did so well in the first 80 minutes as they scramble for one extra point. This is all so true and it needs to change. We need to reward teams for playing exciting rugby as they look for a winning try not convince them to throw away their attacking impulses for the sake of a shot at goal.