Challenge Cup draw attracts criticism
Making a cup draw looks pretty easy, but the whole process from final whistle in the previous round to picking the balls out of the velvet bag requires both an incredible amount of planning and fine-tuning.
It can also be pretty nerve-wracking, which is something I've only been able to appreciate this year, having been fortunate enough to host both the Challenge Cup fourth round and quarter-final draws.
Previously, I'd always been the jittery fan, sweating in front of the television on a Sunday afternoon, waiting for my team's number to come out. I am, of course, still a fan, but this week my only focus was on not messing it up.
Negative thoughts raced through my mind, knowing every player, coach and fan would be listening in nervous anticipation. I prayed there'd not be a spare ball left in the bag.
I also attracted some criticism on Twitter after announcing the last-eight draw would take place on our Radio 5 live Breakfast show at 0820 on Tuesday. Several comments accused the BBC of "again" not caring about the sport by putting the draw on at a stupid time.
Other tweets said "what a ridiculous time to have the draw", "why is it at 8.20 on a Tuesday and not after the final match of the weekend? Joke", and, my personal favourite, "the BBC doing all they can to help promote the game: not".
It is impossible to address such comments in 140 characters, so allow me to try and offer some insight here into the decision-making process regarding the scheduling of the draw.
A very proud moment in my life as I stand beside the Challenge Cup.
There was no window for it to take place after the final fixture on Sunday as there was no televised game on that day. We looked at holding it on 5 live Sport in the same timeslot but a live football commentary made that impossible. For logistical reasons, Monday on Breakfast was a non-starter, which meant that the first available window for a massive national audience was on Tuesday.
The peak timeslot we landed meant an audience of between two and three million. I would wager this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest audience for a Challenge Cup draw, and, being scheduled on a non-rugby league show, it was also a terrific platform to attract new fans.
One point I can sympathise with is the frustration from both fans and players about not knowing when the draw is going to be. Ideally, there would be a set time after each round when the draw is done, on a set channel, so we all know where we stand.
But it is not that simple. The key thing for our sport that craves profile and exposure is to place the draw where we can maximise both of those. Here, having it at peak time, on the Sony Award-winning national Breakfast programme of the year, was a huge result.
The failure from many fans to appreciate this frustrated me. This is exactly the kind of window us league fans strive for, so a lot of the reaction was regrettable and disappointing.
On the day itself, Rugby Football League media boss John Ledger arrived at Media City at 0730. After a quick cup of coffee, out came the famous old trophy and the all-important velvet bag, with the eight numbered, oval balls.
John then met with our producer Tim to discuss how the item would fit into our show. It is a fast-paced news and sport programme, so keeping it snappy was crucial.
Before John arrived, presenter Rachel Burden had already admitted she was petrified of messing it up, while Nicky Campbell told me he was excited and privileged at being asked to conduct it. In more unhelpful criticism, the choice of Nicky and Rachel - two rugby union fans - was castigated by some fans, but both loved performing the draw and will be attending some of the quarter-final fixtures.
The trophy and balls entered the studio at 0815, the draw was made and Nicky was buzzing at the reaction it provoked from fans on text and Twitter. The programme team have already asked about hosting the semi-final draw, so enthused were they, but I can confirm this will indeed take place in the traditional Sunday evening timeslot after the final televised BBC game.
Leeds coach Brian McDermott texted in to "tell Campbell good job for drawing us at Leigh", while Lauren Dorn - the pregnant wife of London full-back Luke - was upset as she'd demanded a home tie in case she went in to labour. In giving the Broncos Huddersfield away, I've had to strike a deal to drive Luke back to London if Lauren has the baby that weekend.
I expected the RFL to be delighted with the draw, especially the Wigan-St Helens derby, but no sooner had we left the studio was Ledger on on the phone with a real scheduling headache, as Wigan Athletic are home that same weekend.
This debate was still going on with the BBC hierarchy - who have first choice on the main TV game - when I left the office on Thursday.