Is an expanded World Club Challenge realistic? Sorry, Gary, but probably not

 

Make no mistake: Gary Hetherington is on manoeuvres.

Leeds’s chief executive is, from this distance at least, trying to back into a corner NRL clubs and those charged with running the Australian game.

By going public in the Australian press with details of plans for an expanded World Club Challenge, talking as though the deal is all but done, is Hetherington in danger of looking like a poker player calling the Aussies’ bluff?

Speaking at Headingley on Monday, he remained optimistic.

“The Aussies have been lukewarm in the past, but I think that’s starting to change,” he said.

“People often describe Australians as insular, but we’re encouraging them to become more global in their vision for the sport.

“More and more they’re becoming very receptive to it. Australian rugby league has been hampered recently during the changeover to the new Commission, but now that’s bedded in we’re hoping things can move forward.

“There has been a template put forward and discussed with the NRL clubs as to how it could work over the next seven years.”

But he had to be asked twice before answering what the reaction had been from Down Under to the proposals put forward by a working party that also included Nigel Wood, Sally Bolton and Ian Lenagan.

And tellingly, he added: “Nothing’s been decided for certain. What’s been presented is an outline that’s being discussed by the NRL and ourselves, with a common agreement that it looks as though it’s deliverable. It now needs to go to the next stage and be ratified by our respective governing bodies.”

Hetherington also admitted “there’s no definitive timescale” on when a decision might be taken, although he hoped progress could be made in the coming fortnight.

Let’s hope he gets his wish, and that NRL clubs do formally agree to stage next year’s World Club Challenge and then take part in an expanded six-team competition in 2015.

But no officials from Down Under have been seen responding to Hetherington’s comments, which perhaps says everything, while Melbourne hooker Cameron Smith was distinctly unimpressed. 

“I’m not too sure (there’s room to expand the World Club Challenge),” said Smith. “I think it’s a pretty touchy subject at the moment, especially in Australia.”

As it stands, it looks like the best-case scenario is taking the WCC to Australia in its current form. The six-team idea? The Aussies just aren’t interested.

But ask for a hunch, and I reckon the 2014 World Club Challenge is still coming to a ground near you – unless you live in Australia.

I hope I’m wrong.

Part of the reason Hetherington is so keen on an expanded World Club Challenge is the obvious commercial attraction of the concept.

This year’s match has, like Super League and (at present) the World Cup, no title sponsor after Heinz decided not to renew their deal.

On British rugby league’s overall health, Hetherington said: “We’re very strong and healthy, although commercially… that’s the one area where historically we’ve significantly under-performed.

“You can say that (applies) over the life of Super League, quite honestly, and certainly over the last several years. It’s become the Achilles heel of the game and its biggest failing, but it’s currently being rectified.”

Who sets the rules in rugby league?

Just after Christmas the RFL insisted it would not be banning shoulder charges “until the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) concludes its own consultation on the use of the technique”.

A Red Hall press release on December 28 claimed… “the RFL laws committee has renewed its commitment to standardising the laws of the game across all nations and competitions wherever possible”.

The RLIF has now spoken, and the shoulder charge is banned from the World Club Challenge and World Cup. Super League will surely follow.

But how does the commitment to standard laws fit with Super League’s new rules relating to advantages and tap-20 restarts?

Got any views on the World Club Challenge, rule changes or Aussie insularity? Drop them in the comments box below.

You can also follow Neil Barraclough on Twitter @neilbarraclough

 

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