The Rugby Football League will iontroduce a new-look competition in 2019 which will give Championship clubs chance to reach a Wembley final.
Championship and League One clubs will compete in the 1895 Cup, with full details to be announced with the Betfred Championship and League One fixtures on Sunday November 25.
All but one of the 12 English Championship clubs have previously won the Challenge Cup, sharing a total of 30 Cup wins – from Batley, who were the first winners in 1897, to Bradford Bulls, the most recent to do so in 2003.
In addition three League One clubs – Hunslet, Oldham and Workington Town – are also former Challenge Cup winners, although in Oldham’s case famously never at Wembley.
The introduction of the 1895 Cup means that there will be three Finals at Wembley Stadium on August 24 – as the Steven Mullaney Memorial Match (the RFL Champion Schools Final for Year 7s), which has long been established as a popular curtain-raiser to the Challenge Cup Final, will also remain a key part of the day.
The RFL have also extended their partnership with Wembley – which has staged 76 Challenge Cup Finals since the first between Wigan and Dewsbury in 1929 – until 2027, which will therefore be the 85th at the Stadium.
Next year’s Challenge Cup Final Day will stick to what has become a regular place on the calendar, the August Bank Holiday Weekend. But in 2020, there will be a move forward to Saturday July 18.
Ralph Rimmer, the chief executive of the Rugby Football League, said: “This is a significant and exciting day for the Challenge Cup, and the game’s relationship with Wembley Stadium.
“Next year we will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the first Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in 1929. Rugby League is proud of the length and strength of that association – Wembley Stadium has been the setting for so many of the greatest matches and memories in the game’s history, with Catalans Dragons writing another chapter when they became the first overseas club to win the Cup earlier this year.
“We are therefore delighted to confirm the extension of that relationship until 2027.
“We believe the introduction of the 1895 Cup will give that relationship another boost. It’s a recognition that the game has changed since the onset of full-time professionalism in the Super League era, meaning that for a good number of the Championship and League One clubs who have won the Challenge Cup in the past, reaching Wembley currently seems a distant dream. This innovation makes that dream of Wembley much more realistic and achievable.
“We’ve seen in football, with the EFL Trophy that was introduced for teams for the third and fourth tiers of their professional structure as the Associate Members’ Cup in 1983, that the introduction of a realistic additional chance to reach Wembley can have a rejuvenating effect on clubs.
“With the 1895 Cup, we want to recognise the contribution of our non-Super League clubs to the game’s history since its founding as the Northern Union 123 years ago – and provide an exciting new chance for their players and supporters to taste the magic of Wembley.
“With the Steven Mullaney Memorial Match continuing to provide a unique opportunity for some potential future stars to play at Wembley Stadium, we’ve tried to create a Challenge Cup Final Day package which will breathe new life into Rugby League’s big day out.”
Confirmed Challenge Cup Round Dates for 2019:
Round 1 – 26th/27th January
Round 2 – 9th/10th February
Round 3 – 9th/10th March
Round 4 – 30th/31st March
Round 5 – 13th/14th April
Round 6 – 11th/12th May
Quarter-Finals – 1st/2nd June
Semi-Finals – 27th/28th July
Final – Saturday 24th August - Wembley Stadium connected by EE
The draw for Round 1 of the 2019 Challenge Cup will take place week commencing December 10th.