The RFL have signed an historic commercial partnership with Coral to include both the men’s and women’s Challenge Cups in a two-year, seven-figure deal - and also reached agreement with Catalans Dragons meaning the holders will defend the trophy this season after all.
The two competitions will come together when the Coral Women’s Challenge Cup Final shares the stage with the men’s semi finals in a triple-header at the University of Bolton Stadium on Saturday July 27.
At one point, it seemed Catalans - the first French side to win the Cup after beating Warrington last August - would not feature in 2019 after refusing to pay the RFL a £500,000 bond to enter the competition.
The governing body asked for the unprecedented deposit in light of a poor attendance in last year’s final, when just over 50,000 people watched Steve McNamara’s side create history.
It created a worrying and embarrassing stand-off for the RFL but Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch today confirmed: “I’m really happy to announce that we will participate to this prestigious competition in 2019.
“After weeks of open and honest discussions with (RFL chief executive) Ralph Rimmer, we have indeed reached a compromise with the RFL.”
On the new deal with Coral - who replace fellow bookmakers Ladbrokes - Rimmer said:“This is a really significant day both for the Challenge Cup, and for women’s Rugby League.
“The men’s Challenge Cup is one of the iconic competitions and trophies of British sport, with more than 120 years of history, and the famous Wembley final televised live to the nation and the world by the BBC.
“The Women’s Challenge Cup may not have that history, but Coral’s enthusiasm for it to be part of a joint sponsorship deal confirms our determination that it is set for a really exciting future.
“With Coral’s name now linked to both the men’s and women’s Challenge Cups, it’s equally exciting to be able to extend the double header for the men’s semi finals that proved such a big hit last year, and now incorporate the Coral Women’s Challenge Cup Final.
“The University of Bolton Stadium proved a popular venue for the sold-out double header last summer, so we’re delighted to be going back for a triple header in 2019.
“We are confident that thousands of the supporters of the teams who reach the semi finals of the men’s Coral Challenge Cup will also take the opportunity to watch the outstanding spectacle provided by our best women’s teams – and that will ensure their skills and athleticism are seen by the record audience they deserve.”
Adrian Osman, the Head of Sponsorship and Events at Coral, said: “The Rugby League Challenge Cup and the final at Wembley are flagship events in British sport, and we are delighted that Coral’s name will now be associated with them in this significant deal. In addition, the opportunity to get involved with women’s sport and the development of women’s Rugby League as the first title sponsors of the Women’s Challenge Cup is hugely exciting for us – and combining the final with the semi finals of the Coral Challenge Cup should produce another great event. We’re really looking forward to seeing the two competitions unfold through the spring and summer.”
The men’s Coral Challenge Cup Final will be held at Wembley Stadium on Saturday August 24.
Leeds Rhinos are the Women’s Challenge Cup holders, having beaten Castleford Tigers in a classic final at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium last summer.
Coral Challenge Cup, 2019
First Round Jan 26-27, Second Round Feb 9-10, Third Round March 9-10, Fourth Round March 30-31, Fifth Round April 13-14, Sixth Round May 11-12.
Quarter Finals June 1-2.
Semi Finals – Saturday July 27, University of Bolton Stadium (triple header, also including Coral Women’s Challenge Cup Final)
Final – Saturday August 24, Wembley Stadium, 230pm.
(Dates for earlier rounds of Coral Women’s Challenge Cup to be confirmed shortly)