Is there any future for the World Club Challenge?

This week saw the news emerge from Australia that NRL winners Melbourne Storm and beaten grand finalists North Queensland Cowboys have organised a testimonial friendly for respective legends Cameron Smith of the Storm and Johnathan Thurston of the Cowboys. The match has been arranged for Friday 23rd February which, unfortunately for the Super League, is the weekend usually earmarked for the World Club Challenge, the trophy which sees the best of Super League face off against their Australasian counterparts.

The competition originally started as a face off simply between the Grand Final winners of both competitions which, usually, has been played in England. In fact, of all the times the competition has been played officially, it has only been hosted Down Under on four occasions, the most recent of these in 2014 when Sydney’s Allianz Stadium saw Sydney Roosters turn over Wigan Warriors 36-14. Perhaps this lack of desire to host the competition highlights what the NRL teams think of the competition – that it is a glorified pre season friendly in their eyes. Many times in the past, including Melbourne Storm in 2016, they have turned down the opportunity to participate in the match which should really be seen as defining the true best team in the world. Part of the issue there is that it is pretty much globally accepted that the NRL is far superior to Super League, so why would they feel the need to compete for this trophy to prove something they already know to be true?

It would be a great shame to see the competition not come off in 2018 and Leeds Rhinos CEO Gary Hetherington, after making arrangements to host the game at Leeds United’s Elland Road, has now made it clear that the Super League winners would be more than willing to travel to Melbourne to face off against the Storm. Nobody could suggest that they don’t want to participate – but will Melbourne agree? If not, it seems that the competition which already seems to have very little support outside of Super League may swiftly die a death. Perhaps the governing bodies could work harder to make teams commit to playing because, if done properly, the concept does has a certain appeal and could be a celebration of club rugby league in both hemispheres.

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