Challenge Cup

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Challenge Cup
Founded 1896
Region  England
Number of teams 88
International cup(s) World Club Series
Current champions File:Rhinoscolours.svg Leeds Rhinos (13th title)
Most successful club(s) File:Wigancolours.svg Wigan Warriors
(19 titles)
Television broadcasters BBC Sport
Sky Sports
2015 Challenge Cup

The Challenge Cup is a knockout cup competition for rugby league clubs organised by the Rugby Football League.[1] Originally it was contested only by British teams but in recent years has been expanded to allow teams from France and Russia to take part.

It has been held annually since 1896, with the exception of much of the 1914-18 Great War (1915–16 to 1918-19) and the start of the Second World War in 1939–1940 season, and involves amateur, semi-professional and professional clubs. For the 2013 competition, 96 teams entered the tournament.

The final of the Challenge Cup is one of the most prestigious matches in world rugby league, and is traditionally held at Wembley Stadium, London.[2] Despite London not being an area traditionally associated with rugby league, the final receives a lot of mainstream media coverage and is broadcast to many different countries around the world. Traditionally, "Abide with Me" is sung before the game, and has become something of a rugby league anthem.

The current holders of the Challenge Cup are Leeds who defeated Hull KR 50-0 on 29 August 2015 at Wembley Stadium. This is their 13th run as champions.

Wigan are the most successful club in the history of the competition, winning the Cup a record 19 times.


The clubs that formed the Northern Union had long been playing in local knock-out cup competitions under the auspices of the Rugby Football Union. However, the rugby union authorities refused to sanction a nationwide tournament, fearing that this would inevitably lead to professionalism. After the schism of 1895, the northern clubs were free to go-ahead, and they instigated the Northern Rugby Football Union Challenge Cup. In 1896 Fattorini's of Bradford were commissioned to manufacture the Challenge Cup at a cost of just £60. Fattorini's also supplied three-guineas winners' medals then valued at thirty shillings (£1.50).

The first competition was held during the 1896–97 season (the second season of the new game), and 56 clubs entered to compete for the trophy. The first final was held at Headingley in Leeds, on 24 April 1897. Batley defeated St Helens 10–3[3] in front of a crowd of 13,492 (see picture). It is interesting to note that the St Helens side did not play in a standardised team jersey.

The competition was later interrupted by the Great War, although it was held in 1915, when the season that had begun before the war was completed. It was then suspended until the end of hostilities. Initially, the final tie was held at one of the larger club grounds in the north, however, noting the excitement in Huddersfield that the town’s football team were playing at Wembley in the FA Cup Final and the increasing difficulty for any of the rugby league grounds to satisfy spectator demand to see the final tie, the rugby league authorities voted 13–10 to move to the recently built Wembley Stadium in London, aiming to emulate the FA Cup's success and to put the game on the national stage.[4]

The first final held at Wembley was in 1926 when Wigan beat Dewsbury 13–2 in front of a crowd of 41,500. At the start of the Second World War, rugby league suspended its season immediately, but the Challenge Cup took a single year’s break before restarting, on a limited basis and with the support of the authorities, as part of keeping up morale. The Challenge Cup finals, which took place in the game’s Northern heartland, got big crowds as the game raised money for prisoners of war and for Lord Beaverbrook’s armaments programme.

File:Challenge cup 1897.jpg
The first ever Challenge Cup Final, 1897: Batley(l) vs. St Helens(r)

In 1946, the Lance Todd Trophy was introduced and awarded to the man of the match. The first winner was Billy Stott of Wakefield Trinity the first winner of the trophy on the losing team was Frank Whitcombe of Bradford Northern in 1948. In itself, it is a prestigious trophy presented only at the Challenge Cup Final. The winner is selected by the members of the Rugby League Writers' Association present at the game and the trophy was presented at a celebratory dinner at the Willows, the home of Salford.

1954 saw the Challenge Cup final drawn and the replay set the record for a rugby league match attendance. The match was on 5 May and 102,569 was the official attendance at Odsal Stadium, although it's believed that up to 120,000 spectators were present to see Warrington defeat Halifax 8–4.

Wigan are well known for their successes in the Challenge Cup competition, having won more Challenge Cups than any other club with nineteen Challenge Cup final wins.

Until the 1993–94 season there were very few amateur clubs included in the cup, typically two. For part of the 1980s and the 1992–93 season the cup was solely for professional clubs. The competition was then opened up to large numbers of amateur clubs as part of a deal between the Rugby Football League and British Amateur Rugby League Association over bridging the gap between the professional and amateur leagues.

The move to a summer season for rugby league in 1996 did not see the Challenge Cup moved, and it became instead essentially a pre-season tournament, with the first Summer Cup Final held earlier in the season, on 27 August at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

In 1997, a Challenge Cup Plate took place for teams knocked out in the early rounds of the competition. The final took place at Wembley and was won by Hull Kingston Rovers who beat Hunslet 60–14.

The last cup final before Wembley's redevelopment saw the first appearance of a team from south of Watford, when the London Broncos were beaten by a record margin, 52–16 by Leeds.[2]

The redevelopment of Wembley Stadium led to the Cup Final utilising a variety of venues. The final is one of the biggest rugby league events of the year in Britain, along with the Super League Grand Final. The Challenge Cup final traditionally formed the end to the season, being played in late April or early May.

There was a belief that the Challenge Cup final taking place early in the season had led to a decline in the prestige of the cup,[5] so the timing of the competition was altered in 2005

On 26 August 2006 St Helens scrum-half Sean Long became the first player in the history of the Challenge Cup to collect a third Lance Todd trophy following his man-of-the-match performance in the final against Huddersfield. His other Lance Todd trophy wins came in the 2001 and 2004 Challenge Cup Finals.

From 2009, the television rights to the Challenge Cup were sold to Australia's leading rugby league broadcaster, Channel Nine, as part of a new 3 year contract.


The modern Challenge Cup has 8 rounds prior to the final. Teams are seeded, entering at different stages. The precise format has altered slightly from year to year, however the current format is as follows:[6][7]

Qualification for World Club Series

In 2015 it was announced that the winners of the Challenge Cup would qualify to play in the World Club Series. If the team who wins the Challenge Cup also wins the League Leaders Shield then the Grand a Final runners up will qualify for the World Club Series. The first team to win the Challenge Cup and qualify for the World Club Series were Leeds Rhinos in 2015 who beat Hull KR 50-0.


Since 1945 the final has been held at Wembley Stadium

During the first round right through to the quarter finals the cup is hosted at the stadium of the team who has been drawn at home. The semi finals are hosted at neutral venues so there is no advantage for the home team. The final is played at Wembley traditionally and was first played there in 1928–29 season. Before the final had been held in Leeds, Huddersfield, Manchester, Wigan, Salford and Rochdale. The first Challenge Cup final was held at Headingley Stadium in Leeds between Batley Bulldogs and St Helens RLFC in front of a crowd of 13,492. It has been played at many different neutral venues before Wembley became the permanent venue for the final. In the event of a draw in the final a replay will be played at a neutral venue somewhere else.


File:NRFU Challenge Cup.jpg
NRFU Challenge Cup first presented 1896–97

The Challenge Cup trophy was designed by silversmiths Fattorini & Sons of Bradford in 1897.[4] The trophy stood 36 inches high manufactured of solid silver and stood on a black ebony base approximately 8 inches deep.

Tony Collins, the Rugby Football League's archivist, stated in 2007 that, "Fattorini's weren't given any particular commission, just told to come up with something prestigious".[4] The trophy cost £60.[4] The average wage in 1897 was around £2 per week which suggests an equivalent 2007 price of £16,000, although Collins says, "if you wanted something made of silver and with that level of craftsmanship these days, it would be far more expensive. In terms of its subsequent value, the RFL got a bargain."[4]

The trophy currently presented to the winners after the final is not the original which had to be withdrawn due to its delicate condition.[4] As well as the silver wearing thin, it had lost its fluted top and the players on each of the handles had been damaged.[4] The original Fattorini trophy was last presented at the 2001 Challenge Cup Final to St Helens captain Chris Joynt after his team had beaten Bradford.[8] The original trophy is now stored at the RFL's headquarters at Red Hall and only used for promotional appearances.[4]

The trophy used today was created by Jack Spencer (goldsmith) of Sheffield in 800 man-hours and is an almost exact replica of the Fattorini piece.[4][8] One improvement made with the new version is that the small shields displaying each winning team and captain are now the same size, whereas they had been getting smaller as space ran out on the original.[4] The new trophy's neck has been strengthened.[8] The second trophy was first presented to Wigan, winners of the 2002 Challenge Cup Final.[8]

The winners of the cup in looking after the trophy must "follow a certain code of practice," says Collins.[4] When not in a secure cabinet, the trophy must always be in the presence of someone.[4] When the trophy is taken out overnight, somebody must sleep in the same room and if taken in a car there must be two people in attendance.[4] Collins reveals that, "When it went down to France for some Catalans publicity photos, it even had its own seat on the plane."[4]


The Lance Todd Trophy, named in memory of Lance Todd, is awarded to the man-of-the-match in the Challenge Cup Final.[9] The winner is decided each year by those members of the Rugby League Writers' Association present at the match.[9]

The Trophy was first presented in 1946 to William "Billy" Stott of Wakefield Trinity.[9][10]


The Challenge Cup has been sponsored since 1980, with the sponsor being able to determine the cup's sponsorship name. There have been six sponsors.

Period Sponsor Name
1980-1985 State Express State Express Challenge Cup
1985-2001 Silk Cut Silk Cut Challenge Cup
2002-2003 Kellogg's Nutrigrain Kellogg's Nutrigrain Challenge Cup
2004-2007 Powergen Powergen Challenge Cup
2008-2012 Leeds Met Carnegie Carnegie Challenge Cup
2013-2014 Tetley's Tetley's Challenge Cup
2015-2017 Ladbrokes Ladbrokes Challenge Cup

Challenge Cup Finals

In total, 26 different clubs have won the Challenge Cup and 30 different teams have appeared in the final. Wigan Warriors hold the record for most wins with 19 and have appeared in 30 finals. In 2007, Catalans Dragons became the first non English team to reach the final but lost to St Helens.


Clubs ordered by number of wins, then by number of runners-up appearances, then by how recently they last won a final, then finally by how recently they last made a runners-up appearance. Only the aggregate winner/loser for the years during the Second World War has been counted.

Club Wins Last win Runners-up Last final lost
1 File:Wigancolours.svg Wigan 19 2013 11 2004
2 File:Rhinoscolours.svg Leeds 13 2015 12 2012
3 File:Saintscolours.svg St Helens 12 2008 9 2002
4 File:Wolvescolours.svg Warrington 8 2012 8 1990
5 File:Widnes colours.svg Widnes 7 1984 6 1993
6 File:Giantscolours.svg Huddersfield 6 1953 4 2009
7 Faxcolours.svg Halifax 5 1987 7 1988
8 Bullscolours.svg Bradford 5 2003 6 2001
9 File:Wcatscolours.svg Wakefield Trinity 5 1963 3 1979
10 Castleford colours.svg Castleford 4 1986 2 2014
11 Hullcolours.svg Hull 3 2005 12 2013
12 Oldhamcolours.svg Oldham 3 1927 4 1926
13 Fevcolours.svg Featherstone Rovers 3 1983 2 1974
14 Swintoncolours.svg Swinton 3 1928 2 1932
15 Batley colours.svg Batley 3 1901 0 -
16 Hunsletcolours.svg Hunslet 2 1934 2 1965
17 Ramscolours.svg Dewsbury 2 1943 1 1929
18 Leigh colours.svg Leigh 2 1971 0 -
19 Broughton Rangers §§ 2 1911 0 -
20 HKRcolours.svg Hull Kingston Rovers 1 1980 6 2015
21 Redscolours.svg Salford 1 1938 6 1969
22 Barrowcolours.svg Barrow 1 1955 4 1967
23 Workingtoncolours.svg Workington Town 1 1952 2 1958
24 Bradford §§ 1 1905 1 1898
25 Sheffeagles colours.svg Sheffield Eagles 1 1998 0 -
26 File:Rochdale colours.svg Rochdale Hornets 1 1922 0 -
27 Catalanscolours.svg Catalans Dragons 0 - 1 2007
28 Broncoscolours.png London Broncos 0 - 1 1999
29 Cougscolours.svg Keighley 0 - 1 1937
30 File:Yorkcolours.svg York 0 - 1 1931
  • GOLD Denotes current holders
  • §§ Denotes club now defunct

The Double

In Rugby League, the term 'the Double' is referring to the achievement of a club that wins the Super League and Challenge Cup in the same season. To date, this has been achieved by ten different clubs.

Club Wins Winning Years
1 File:Wigancolours.svg Wigan 7 1989/90, 1990/91, 1991/92, 1992/93, 1993/94, 1994/95, 2013
2 File:Saintscolours.svg St Helens 3 1965/66, 1996, 2006
3 File:Giantscolours.svg Huddersfield 2 1912/13, 1914/15 (All Four Cups)
4 Barrowcolours.svg Broughton 1 1901/02
5 Faxcolours.svg Halifax 1 1902/03
6 Hunsletcolours.svg Hunslet 1 1907/08 (All Four Cups)
7 Swintoncolours.svg Swinton 1 1927/28 (All Four Cups)
8 File:Wolvescolours.svg Warrington 1 1953/54
9 Bullscolours.svg Bradford 1 2003
10 File:Rhinoscolours.svg Leeds 1 2015

The Treble

The Treble refers to the team who wins all three domestic honours on offer during the season; Grand Final, League Leaders Shield and Challenge Cup. To date seven teams have won the treble, only Bradford Bulls, St Helens RFC and Leeds Rhinos have won the treble in the Super League era.

Club Wins Winning years
File:Wigancolours.svg Wigan Warriors
3 1991–92, 1992–93, 1994–95
File:Giantscolours.svg Huddersfield Giants
2 1912–13, 1914–15
File:Saintscolours.svg St Helens RFC
2 1965–66, 2006
Hunsletcolours.svg Hunslet Hawks
1 1907–08
Swintoncolours.svg Swinton Lions
1 1927–28
Bullscolours.svg Bradford Bulls
1 2003
File:Rhinoscolours.svg Leeds Rhinos
1 2015

All Four Cups

Winning all Four Cups refers to winning the Super League, League Leaders Shield, Challenge Cup and World Club Challenge in one season. Not all of these cups were available in the past but have replaced over cups that could be won.

Club Wins Winning years
Hunsletcolours.svg Hunslet Hawks
1 1907–08
File:Giantscolours.svg Huddersfield Giants
1 1914–15
Swintoncolours.svg Swinton Lions
1 1927–28
File:Wigancolours.svg Wigan Warriors
1 1994–95
Bullscolours.svg Bradford Bulls
1 2003–04
File:Saintscolours.svg St Helens
1 2006–07

Media coverage

The BBC first covered the final of this competition when Wigan beat Bradford Northern in 1948. At that time though the only TV transmitter was in London, so fans up North never got to see it. It was another ten years before another final was covered when Wigan again won against Workington Town in 1958. The inception of Grandstand also saw coverage of earlier rounds start to be shown during the 1960s with ITV "World of Sport" even showing games as well for a short period. The BBC has been the predominant broadcaster though with them showing every Final LIVE since 1958 (except the 1982 Final Replay shown as highlights). Eddie Waring was the first commentator for BBC coverage. When he retired, commentary was covered by Ray French and he continues to work for the BBC albeit in semi-retirement, with his last Challenge Cup Final in 2008. From 2009, the present day main commentator is Dave Woods. He usually commentates with Brian Noble, Jonathan Davies, Iestyn Harris or Ian Millward. Nowadays, the BBC continue to broadcast the tournament with Clare Balding hosting from 2006 to 2012 until her move to Channel 4 Racing. Mark Chapman was secondary host in 2012 when Balding was unavailable for the cup and international matches, and previous hosts for the BBC are John Inverdale and Steve Rider.

Sky Sports now have the rights for the early rounds with one match each round and two quarter finals; whilst BBC Sport show two sixth round matches, two quarter finals, both semi-finals and the final.

Duration Broadcaster
1958-2011 BBC Sport
2012-2016 BBC Sport (Quarter final, Semi final and Final only)
Sky Sports (R4, R5, QF only)
2017-2020 BBC Sport

See also


  1. RFL. "About the Competition". Rugby Football League. Retrieved 8 May 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  2. 2.0 2.1 Demsteader, Christine (1 October 2000). "Rugby League's home from home". BBC Sport. UK: BBC. Retrieved 4 December 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Baker, Andrew (20 August 1995). "100 years of rugby league: From the great divide to the Super era". Independent, The. Retrieved 25 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 Julian Shea (22 August 2007). "Rugby league's precious metal". BBC. Archived from the original on 16 August 2010. Retrieved 23 July 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Kelner, Simon (4 May 1997). "Saints go shining through the hype". The Independent. UK. Retrieved 5 December 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 BBC (27 February 2004). "Profile: Challenge Cup Trophy". BBC Sport. Archived from the original on 16 August 2010. Retrieved 16 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 RFL. "Lance Todd Trophy". Rugby Football League. Retrieved 8 May 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  10. BBC Sport (26 August 2008). "Lance Todd Trophy winners". BBC. Retrieved 8 May 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links