Champions League – a great idea

SKY Sports’ producer Neville Smith has mooted the idea of a rugby league Champions League, featuring the top four clubs from both Super League and the NRL.

Forget the logistical issues for the time being, and forget the ill-fated and by now irrelevant 1997 World Club Championship competition.

This is a great idea.

The doom-mongers will immediately put forward the suggestion that the NRL is better than the Super League, and that the games would be one sided. But how do we know?

This could be a global event, and one that attracts much attention, if done the right way.

The main logistical question is how to fit it in. Certain players moan about there being too many games already, but the fact is, games mean revenue, and revenue is what pays these players wages. The more games played, the more money players can surely expect to earn.

Last season, both Leeds and Wigan played just one less of the maximum number of games that a team can currently play in one season in 2011 with 37 (27 Super League, 5 Challenge Cup, 4 Play-offs, 1 World Club Challenge).

There aren’t many free weekends in the season as it is, as we’ve experienced with difficulties in arranging international dates against France, New Zealand and most recently, the new Exiles team.

So where would a Champions League fit in?

Back in 1997, there were a couple of three week gaps in the league schedule during the season to accommodate the World Club Championship matches. The problem with that concept this time is that only four of the 14 Super League clubs would feature in the new competition.

Would holding it after the season has finished take away value from each competition’s respective Grand Finals, and would holding it prior to the season render it merely a pre-season tournament? Another issue in holding it the following year is that teams change at the end of each season.

A non-domestic club competition is something which rugby league is lacking. In football, they have their own Champions League, while in rugby union, the Heineken Cup is the pinnacle of club rugby. Can rugby league emulate the impact that these competitions have had?

A way round it may be to compromise the Challenge Cup. So that the four teams competing in the Champions League receive a bye from the first round Super League teams are included, which would free up one weekend for Champions League games. The teams competing could shift a Super League game to a midweek or another free date during the season (perhaps if they are eliminated early from the Challenge Cup), which would then free up two weekends.

Potentially, there could then be a 18 day window where three Champions League games could be played – the group stage, with knockout stages to be held at another date. Two pools of four, with one played in the UK, and one played in Australia – or both in a neutral country.

That then, of course, poses the problem of when the semi-finals and final would be played. Before the play-off series?

All it would surely take is a few of the bigwigs in both leagues sitting down and thrashing a plan out. It would more than likely result in the Challenge Cup final being moved back a few months, and scrapping the Magic Weekend. But would either of those be a bad thing? Bank Holiday weekend in August could then become Champions League final weekend.

We have to believe that Super League teams are capable of competing against their NRL counterparts. Even if they aren’t, playing them won’t hurt. After all, that was the excuse offered to us as to why French and Welsh teams were elevated in to Super League, and then setting up internationals against England.

Club rugby league is its strength. International rugby league has its problems and its critics, and is often a subject of embarrassment, but the top rugby league clubs playing each other on the world stage, would be a great advert for the sport, and one that none of the critics could snipe at.

Here’s hoping the idea comes to fruition.

What do you think? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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