Yorkshire’s membership fell from a high of 150 in 1892 to a mere 14 ten years later as nearly every Cup winner up to the turn of the century formed part of the exodus to the Northern Union. A rule was even introduced stipulating that the when the Cup holders decided to change affiliation they had to return the trophy to the County Union within one week of them submitting an application to the Northern Union. Although the Cup inevitably lost much of its prestige as a result of the ‘split’ of 1895, it did manage to remain the focal point of the Yorkshire Rugby Union club season.
Those 14 clubs that remained loyal to the Rugby Union game maintained the Cup’s reputation for controversy. Before the ball had even been kicked-off in the April 1903 final replay, Skipton lodged an appeal claiming that Castleford were intending to field an ineligible player, namely the English international, Jack Taylor, formerly of Castleford, but at the time a member of West Hartlepool. Assisted by Taylor, Castleford had the best of a close match which was staged at Belle Vue Athletic Ground, the home of Wakefield Trinity. The Yorkshire committee met on the following Monday, found in Skipton’s favour, declared Castleford’s 6-0 victory void, and ordered a further replay with Taylor barred. After considering their options, Castleford refused to turn-out for a second replay and the County committee eventually awarded the Cup to Skipton.
Six years later, Castleford once again caused problems for the committee following a meeting with Headingley, a club relatively new to the senior ranks. Since the turn of the century, the Headingley Club had exchanged its previous junior status for a new role as the leading Rugby Union club in the Leeds district, a position, which had attracted numerous County players and five internationals into its squad. The committee’s problems stemmed from a first round tie that had to be stopped half-way through the second-half due to over rough play. At that, sections of the crowd invaded the pitch and attacked the players. Castleford was held responsible for the actions of its supporters by the County committee and expelled from the Union in March 1909. Headingley meanwhile went on to reach the final at Ilkley where they were awarded the Cup after the Skipton team, objecting to the referee’s awarding of a try to their opponents, walked-off the field five minutes before half-time.
Controversy did not prevent new clubs springing-up and entering the Cup. Spurring many of the new clubs into existence was a financial crisis that was striking at the heart of the Northern Union. Shortly after the demise of its Northern Union Club, Otley became in 1907 one of the first towns to form a new Rugby Union club, and retake possession of their old Wharfeside ground. Within three years, the reborn Otley club had won the Cup.
For many years the beaten finalists had been presented with a trophy in the form of a silver rugby ball. In April 1912 Skipton became the first club ever to win the cup on three occasions. To mark Skipton’s achievement the County presented the club with the silver rugby ball trophy.
Interest was stirring in south Yorkshire, where soccer rather than Rugby Union had always been the ‘people’s’ game. The 1909/10 campaign began with a first round ‘derby’ between Darnall and Sheffield, which drew an unprecedented crowd of 1,500. Darnall won and went on to reach the semi-final, the first entrant from south Yorkshire ever to scale such heights. As if to prove Darnall’s achievement was no fluke, Sheffield themselves reached the semi-final the following season and again in 1913/14. Although neither club had managed to lift the trophy, teams from south Yorkshire had at last made an impact in the County Cup.
Relations with the Northern Union at this time were coldly pragmatic, at least at a local level. When the infant Huddersfield Old Boys Club drew a plum home tie against Headingley in 1912/13, the town took an interest. Having no suitable ground of their own Old Boys were offered the use of Fartown, the home of Huddersfield’s Northern Union team. As with most such requests, permission was granted to use the stadium provided the Northern Union Club gained no financial advantage. Such grand surroundings did not help the Old Boys on the field where they lost by 62 points to 3.
The influx of new clubs appeared to be bringing a better class of player into the game. Speaking at the dinner after the 1913 final, the County President was able to congratulate the entrants on not having one player dismissed throughout the competition, unlike previous seasons. Public interest was also growing and a crowd of 5,000 watched Headingley beat Harrogate O.B. in the April 1914 final at Otley.