We have been promised that rugby league’s World Club Series is set to be expanded.
I have to admit to having some serious reservations as to whether including even more clubs will be a move for the better.
Super League general manager Blake Solly seems certain meeting the NRL challenge is a positive move and has said: “The only way Super League and the players that play in Super League can improve is by this sort of competition.”
Arguably Solly is right that pitting yourself against the best is a good way of bringing out the best – but I can’t help but feel expanding the World Club Series could be a way of re-opening old wounds.
Ever since Wally Lewis and the Australian touring team nicknamed the ‘Invincibles’ rocked up on these shores and in France in 1982 and blew away every side put in front of them, we have been beating ourselves up that rugby league in the northern hemisphere is off the pace.
There have been many laudable moves taken and internationally we may be getting there as witnessed at the end of last season when England notched a 2-1 series win over reigning world champions New Zealand.
The fact that the likes of England players James Graham, Gareth Widdop and the Burgess brothers are plying their trace with great success in the NRL means that gaps have been closed.
However, the recent round of World Club Series matches saw a second consecutive whitewash for the NRL sides with a an aggregate of 118-28 – with the North Queensland Cowboys becoming world champions notching a 38-4 win at Leeds.
Admittedly the Rhinos are having more than their fair share of injury problems at the moment, but equally the Super League clubs are into the competitive season and should be nearing their best, while the Aussies are still a couple of weeks away from their competition getting started – and of course had flown to the other side of the world for their away fixtures.
However, the two World Club Series that have been played suggest that Super League is still a fair way off the pace when it comes to matching the NRL and that is why I feel a little cagey about expanding the competition for other clubs to take part.
It all smacks of moving a step closer to a return to the 1997 World Club Championship, which from first hand experience I can tell you was not a pretty sight.
The competition was structured to include all 22 clubs from the Australasian and European Super League championships and was contested over six rounds in both hemispheres,
I was covering the Blue Sox for the Halifax Courier at the time and they were handed a tough draw facing Brisbane Broncos, Canberra Raiders and Canterbury Bulldogs.
Initially I was a little miffed to be told that I would not be covering the opening three matches in Australia as the cost was a little too high for the Courier budget.
Instead I stayed in touch with coach John Pendlebury and skipper Karl Harrison through early morning phone calls and, judging by their collective mood as the competition went on, I felt I was lucky to have stayed at home.
Halifax started with a 70–6 defeat to Canberra Raiders at the Bruce Stadium, then a 58-6 reversal at the Belmore Sports Ground against the Bulldogs and finally got thumped 76-0 at the ANZ Stadium in Brisbane.
It wasn’t much better in the home games at Thrum Hall as a 40-22 defeat against Canterbury was followed by a 42-12 setback to the Raiders and finally a 54-10 thrashing against Brisbane – though I must admit listening to the thoughts of then Broncos coach Wayne Bennett after the match was a wonderful education in itself.
The tournament ended with four NRL clubs – the Broncos, Hunter Mariners, Auckland Warriors and Cronulla Sharks – reaching the semi-finals and Brisbane duly took the trophy beating the Mariners 36-12 in the final.
When it came to what lessons were learned, sadly it was that staging such a competition cost a small fortune and that, for the Super League clubs, even having top class opponents on show was no guarantee of extra revenue.
The Blue Sox attracted crowds of 3,500 and 3,620 for their opening two home games – distinctly below their average gate at the time – before facing arguably the most attractive team in the whole championship in Brisbane and managed to pull in just 3,255 punters to Thrum Hall on what I recall was a reasonably warm August evening.
It was totally unsurprising that the venture was scrapped and if anything it set the cause of Super League closing the gap on the NRL back for quite a while.
I can understand the Super League top brass being keen to make the current World Club Series work, and as a result increase the competitiveness of our clubs, but I would sound a cautionary note that things can be taken too far.
Some football fans have got to make their minds up.
Just two weeks ago there were protests about entrance prices being too high.
This weekend has been notable for a minority of fans being so well off that they can afford to launch their loose change at the players on the field.
Just how many 50 pence pieces you get back in change out of your £80 entrance fee is really not the point – what matters is what on earth goes in the heads of these idiots?
In all the years I have watched football and rugby I have never had the urge to throw my money on the pitch.
Usually it has been designated for other things such as a pie, or a cup of Bovril, or maybe a few pints.
And equally I cannot imagine that any of the friends I have gone to matches with over the years I have thought any different to me – so who are these people ready to launch their petty cash on to the pitch?
However, it has not been solely a soccer problem over the years.
My dad was a rugby league referee and touchjudge and spent his final 15 years running the line at top class matches.
He used to like being on The Boulevard’s Threepenny Stand side of the ground when sent to Hull, as he reckoned you could double your match expenses with the coins thrown at you.
Airlie Birds fans of a certain age will have questioned the fitness of some touchjudges in the 1970s as they slowed down towards the latter end of the half.
It had nothing to do with stamina – you try running with all that loose change in your pockets.
But seriously I can’t think that I have ever witnessed someone throwing coins at a game, so thankfully it must remain a rare occurrence – but if you do see it happen, turn in the offender because they are not worthy of following your team!