The news that England and Australia are not going to contest the “Ashes” in a one-off Four Nations game will have pleased many. It was something of a relief that one of rugby league’s most prized trophies was not going to be cheapened in such a way. Unfortunately, it seems that almost all of our competitions are at risk of some sort of degradation.
The Ashes idea lacked substance, and would have been disastrous. The Ashes trophy – along with its cousin the Baskerville (or Baskiville) Shield – should only be contested in a three-match Test series. Otherwise the allure of such a trophy is greatly lessened; it becomes a trophy secondary to the Four Nations. Should England have won the legitimacy of their Ashes victory would be questionable at best.
This is especially so given the impetus for the move came from England’s win in the cricket Ashes. Were we seriously considering trying to emulate a series which involved five five-day Test matches with a one-off game in a separate competition? (To be honest the naming of our series as the Ashes is itself slightly odd, as the ashes in question are those “of English cricket”, and bear no relevance to our game.)
All in all the right decision was made not to go along with this ill-thought out idea. But the Ashes are certainly not the only rugby league trophy in danger of losing worth. The Challenge Cup final, as has been discussed in previous weeks, is a case in point: it seems to Sky Sports among others that the famous cup competition is a “distraction” from the real business of Super League.
The World Club Challenge is the focus of some ridicule. Even though some criticism is justified – just a one-off game, different teams that actually won the respective championships, always held in England – it’s puzzling that we can’t just accept the WCC for what it is. The same goes for international tournaments such as the Four Nations and the World Cup, derided for a lack of true rugby league-playing nations.
The League Leaders’ Shield is another prize that seemingly carries little importance. After winning the shield Leeds boss Brian McClennan said it looked like “a lid that you stick on top of a cup”. His response to finishing in top spot was the less-than-empahatic “we’ve put ourselves in a good position”. McClennan didn’t actually disparage the achievement, but he wasn’t exactly excited.
For people who feel the team finishing top should be the champions it’s tempting to believe that all has been subjugated to an all-consuming Super League play-off final. Yet the Grand Final has its fair share of knockers, and I’m not one of them. No, I’m not quite comfortable that a team from the bottom half of the table could become the “champions”, but an event which draws 70,000 people and is such an exciting spectacle needs to be maintained for the good of the game.
All this makes you wonder whether anything in rugby league is actually worth winning. But to my mind the Challenge Cup, League Leadership and Grand Final are all worth winning. They should be equal in value, and together constitute a treble which represents the modern pinnacle of the domestic game, achieved by Bradford in 2003 and St Helens in 2006. Other competitions should simply be enjoyed, despite any flaws.
After all, there are enough people out there ready to have a go at rugby league without those within the game doing the work on their behalf.
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