Plans to revive the World Club Series have been shelved next year and we’ll just have the World Club Challenge once more – but there are a number of ideas flying around about how to take the concept forward.
South Sydney were to fly to Cheshire (sorry for the old timers who obsess about county boundaries in England and like to think of Warrington as still being in Lancashire!) to take on the Warrington Wolves on the same weekend as St Helens host Sydney Roosters at the Totally Wicked Stadium on February 22.
But Rabbitohs general manager of football Shane Richardson told League Weekly on Monday: “They didn’t go forward with it.
“It was a financial thing, not from our point of view but from the leagues’ point of view. The NRL and Super League. We would have gone. We organised to go, we haven’t got another trial that weekend.
“We’ve to do more to try and promote the World Club Challenge and make it bigger and better.”
Richo wants more NRL and Super League teams involved and that is the conventional idea of how to re-expand the concept.
It was 22 years ago now that the Super League World Club Championship was an unmitigated disaster (although many players and even journos met their lifelong partners during that competition!) but the lessons aren’t forgotten.
A competition involving every club from both leagues would be a car crash on the field, even if off-field factors would prevent it happening anyway.
So the idea is to involve the better Super League clubs without us having to watch Huddersfield versus Gold Coast.
But another idea that’s been kicking around for a few years now has been picked up by the Toronto Wolfpack – predictably, when you consider its nuts and bolts. I may have even planted it in the minds of their officials myself and now I’m a reporting on it – a sure sign you’ve been doing a round as a journalist for too long!
That idea is that every country with a full-time professional club enters the World Club Championship.
So next year, you would have Sydney Roosters, St Helens, Catalans, New Zealand Warriors, PNG Hunters and Toronto in a two-weekend round robin.
A philosophical reservation about this is that any “World Club” competition is – by definition – about clubs not countries. Therefore you shouldn’t get a rails run into a competition that two clubs have to earn entry to the hardest way.
The flipside of that is we’re a small sport and smoke and mirrors are necessary on a regular basis for us to create the right impression in the marketplace.
But it’s not so much the argument that I want to resolve here as to discuss how the decisions in this area are made.
The World Club Challenge is owned by Super League and the NRL. The NRL has never cared enough to make competing in it compulsory for the premiers. And Super League is, effectively, the Super League clubs.
Are Super League clubs going to vote to automatically qualify Catalans and Toronto (perhaps Toulouse and even Ottawa in future years can break these monopolies while New York would be added) for a blue-chip event – regardless of where they finish on the table?
How could a club CEO or chairman justify this to his board? “I voted in favour of Catalans and Toronto getting into this competition ahead of us even if we make the grand final or win the Challenge Cup.”
And would the NRL invite the Hunters and compel the Warriors to take part every year when they were happy for Melbourne not to play this year and Leeds had to go to them? Would they put the new Fiji franchise in ahead of, say, Souths who actually want to travel?
I don’t think so.
Sadly, a decision on the future of the World Club Series is still a long way from being made in the interest of the sport.
But, you know, the arc of progress in rugby league is bending in the direction of these things being done for the right reasons.
It’s just a bloody long arc.