After the New Zealand Warriors became the latest NRL club to express their unwillingness to take part in the 2017 World Club Series, even more doubt has been cast over the future of the event. It seems to be becoming something that nobody really wants to take part in, so is it time to make changes to it? Or should we get rid of the 3-game series completely? Let’s take a look…
The World Club Series has been going for 2 years, taking the place of the old World Club Challenge, which was Super League Champions v NRL Champions. At first it seemed like a good idea, having the best from England play the best from Australia in 3 games over one weekend and showcasing our sport. While it’s good to see the two biggest Rugby League competitions go head-to-head, in both years it has been somewhat of a non-contest. 6 games played, 6 wins for the Australian sides, several big score lines and, overall, one big embarrassment for Super League.
But, that’s not the reason the Series in danger, after all it can be of some benefit to the English game as it allows us to see if the gap in quality between Super League and the undoubtedly superior NRL has closed, or indeed increased. The reason it’s in danger is because of the Australian sides not wanting to take part and, in all fairness, you can see why.
The World Club Series is played just after the start of the Super League season in February and just a few weeks before the start of the NRL. That’s one of the main reasons clubs are rejecting the opportunity to be a part of it. Travelling to the other side of the world shortly before a long campaign gets underway, and therefore losing out on crucial training and preparation time, can’t be much help to the Australian teams. You also have to consider that they have friendlies and the 9’s competition to play too. What’s even more off putting for 2 of the clubs (those that didn’t win their league) is that they won’t actually be playing for anything, so they are essentially making a near 19,000-mile round trip to play a friendly. When you think that most Super League sides travel just down the M62 for their pre-season games, it is understandable why it can be looked at as more of a pain than a privilege for those ‘down under’.
‘The 18th Man’ brought you the news last week that 7 of the clubs that finished in the top 8 of the NRL last season do not want to participate in the Series in 2017, the exception being the Premiers, Cronulla Sharks, who take on Wigan Warriors in the main event. This creates a problem. The excitement around it is the fact that it’s an opportunity for fans to see the best v the best and another chance to write another chapter in the long sporting rivalry between England and Australia. But, if the top sides don’t want to come over, then is there really a point? The Super League sides who had a good season in 2016, Warrington and Hull FC in this case, will end up playing a side who didn’t really have much of an impact in the NRL, and that could come across as a little insulting and belittling to not only the two sides who provided us with so much entertainment as they battled it out in the Challenge Cup Final and in the League/Super 8’s, but to the Super League as well. And, can you imagine trying to sell and promote those games? ‘Come and watch the Challenge Cup winners play the NRL’s 10th best side!’. Yeah, sounds great…
So, what could change? What can the RFL and NRL do to make sure that the annual meeting between the two competitions isn’t completely abandoned?
Well, first of all, we could just go back to the original World Club Challenge. Just one game between the two champions of each league who fight it out for the right to be called World Champions. That worked in the past, and there certainly wasn’t as many complaints about it. Of course, there would still be travelling involved, but when there is a competitive edge to it and there is something to be achieved by winning the game, that won’t matter as much. Plus, an arrangement could be made so the game is played in England one year, Australia the next and so on. The game that decides who is the best Rugby League side in the world has only been played Australia four times anyway, so having the game there more often would also be an extra challenge for the English sides to overcome.
Or, if we want to keep the 3 game Series, then the clubs could meet somewhere in the middle, as has previously been suggested by the organisers. This means all clubs have to travel, but not nearly as far as they would have to at the moment. That would hopefully make the teams toward to the top end of the NRL ladder would rethink their current stance on their participation. This also means the game would get exposure in a new place and to a different audience, helping to grow it globally. A problem with this though is that regular fans may not be able to get there for a variety of reasons, and it’s important that the fans who go to games week in, week out aren’t forgotten about and potentially excluded from experiencing the games.
Those are two simple ideas for what could happen to the series, but there will be many more and probably better ways that could help to keep it alive and maintain that special feeling that it provides.
It’s clear something has to change, but it would be a shame if the World Club Series was written off. The event is a good way of promoting the sport, especially in England where, as we know all too well, it is still yet to really take off. In fact, the 6 games that have been played here since 2015 have had good attendances, with the lowest being at the Warrington v St. George Illawarra Dragons tie with 13,080 in attendance, but even that figure is higher than that of a regular Super League game. On top of that, the overall attendance at the 3 games in 2016 (52,889) was a slight improvement on the 2015 series (51,812), so the interest is growing, albeit at a slow pace. That shows the Series as a product definitely has the potential to be a success, it’s just finding the right balance in the planning so everyone is happy and want to be involved.
What happens with the 2017 series is still yet to be discovered. There will be one, but who takes part in it is still yet to be confirmed. From there, who knows what will happen to the World Club Series, but the RFL and NRL have to act quick or risk ending up with nothing.
What are your views on the World Club Series? Do you have any suggestions on what changes could be made to make it work? Be sure to let us know by tweeting us-@The18thManUK, or by leaving a comment on our Facebook page!