Back the World Club Challenge or get out of the way
Manly Sea Eagles' Brett Stewart scores a try during their World Club Challenge rugby league match against Leeds Rhinos at Elland Road Stadium, Leeds, England, Sunday, March 1, 2009. AP Photo/Paul Thomas
There are only 38 more days until the annual World Club Challenge. As is the case every year, like clockwork, haters come out of the woodwork.
Some will tell you it means nothing. An event played in England for the English. A game where the National Rugby League premiers lob up in holiday mode and jog around for 80 minutes with both eyes squarely on the new NRL season.
Give me a break!
Playing in the World Club Challenge is a privilege, not a chore. Granted some Australian teams haven’t taken it seriously in the past. Some have taken weakened sides and paid the price.
But history suggests that the majority of teams that respected the concept and have taken strong squads have been rewarded by either winning the trophy or returning to Australia hardened for the season ahead.
Those sides who rested players or didn’t take it seriously have returned and spluttered through the following NRL season.
If you are going to blame this event for a lacklustre start to your team’s NRL season, then give it credit for strengthening a team’s resolve, too.
In 2003 the Sydney Roosters destroyed St Helens 38-0. Brad Fittler’s men would make it all the way to the 2004 NRL decider before falling to the Canterbury Bulldogs.
The following three seasons saw the Bulldogs, Penrith Panthers and Wests Tigers take weakened teams across and get flogged.
These sides didn’t struggle in the following NRL season because they had to travel to the United Kingdom. They struggled because the NRL is the toughest competition of any sport on this planet.
Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm took their matches seriously in 2007 and 2008 respectively and narrowly lost classic battles to their opposition.
What was there excuse? NRL sides won the next three WCC matches, by the way.
English fans watch the NRL just as intently as they watch the Super League. Once a year, they get to the see our champions.
We need to realise that this annual clash has a special part to play on the rugby league calendar and not something teams “have to do”.
Like it or not, this sport we love isn’t just played in Australia by Australians.
If Super League fans are going to continue forking out their own hard earned to see our NRL premiers, we need to keep playing this game.
On February 22 the Leeds Rhinos will host the Melbourne Storm. The fire has been lit for yet another brutal WCC with Golden Boot winner Kevin Sinfield taking a shot at all Aussies.
“The Australians probably think the NRL competition is far superior to Super League,” Sinfield told BBC Sport.
“Whether they rate me or not I am not sure, but with a lot of the Australians they rate themselves very highly.
“I am not bothered or interested in what they say. If they want to have a crack then they can fire away.”
Ask and you shall receive, pal. It might mean nothing to you, but it means plenty to a lot of other people.