The Challenge Cup could provide a behind-closed-doors boost for rugby league if the sport cannot get crowds back into stadiums in the next few months, says Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington.
Rugby league has been suspended indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic and even when the current lockdown is lifted, social distancing may stop sports grounds opening their gates.
In a climate of such uncertainty, Hetherington believes fan-free Challenge Cup ties could be an option.
“It doesn’t affect season ticket holders or corporate membership typically and it’s less problematic,” said Hetherington.
“We are talking hypothetically, because there is so much uncertainty out there. But we’ve got eight sixth-round ties to be played and those all could be played behind closed doors and, if needs be, at one venue.
“It could deliver a match on a Thursday night, a match on a Friday, three matches on a Saturday and three matches on a Sunday. They could all be made available for television.
“It could provide an opportunity for the game. We need to be mindful to search for opportunities. If we were to be a sport that provided live sport when no-one else is, well that’s an opportunity to showcase our game at its best.”
Hetherington admits that playing the Challenge Cup final on the planned date of 18 July is highly unlikely to happen, but he stills hopes that Wembley can be the venue for the game later in the year.
He continued: “It’s inevitable we are going to extend the season and we’ve got to do whatever we have to do. It might go to November, it might go to December. Who knows – it could even go beyond December.
“Back in 1995-96, the season finished in the middle of January and the 1996 season (the first Super League season) began in the middle of March.
“The date for the Challenge Cup final may not be appropriate, therefore we’d have to find a new date for the final. Who knows, possibly a new venue, but I’d like to think Wembley remains as the venue for the final.
“It is such a major event for the sport, so we are going to do everything we can to preserve it and maybe even enhance it as well.”
Hetherington also confirmed that the majority of staff and players at Leeds, who are third in the Super League table, have been furloughed.