Ready for the challenge

Like almost every concept ever introduced in rugby league, the World Club Challenge tends to attract support and criticism in equal measure.  

Some believe that the timing of the fixture means that it is nothing more than an exhibition match and that little significance can be attached to the result. 

Others argue that it is a fabulous spectacle, pitting the best of the northern hemisphere against their southern counterparts to crown the best club side in the world.

One of my most vivid memories in rugby league is the 2007 World Club Challenge between St Helens and Brisbane at the Reebok Stadium.

Over 23,000 were treated to an enthralling 80 minutes of action with Paul Sculthorpe’s outstanding display off the bench earning him the man of the match award.

The atmosphere is always guaranteed to be red hot whenever an English team squares off against Australian opposition.

We enjoy disproving Australia’s supposed superiority almost as much as they enjoy proving it.

But the World Club Challenge is capable of generating an atmosphere all of its own.

Players understandably have stronger ties with their club team-mates than in international matches and, particularly in Wigan’s case, a heightened sense of pride in representing their town. That level of intensity and will to win is often transferred to the crowd.

One of the arguments put forward during the ongoing speculation over the future of Kyle Eastman is that players have a desire to be involved in competitions like the Heineken Cup.

That argument illustrates the importance of having a strong international club competition. As it stands rugby union is some way ahead of rugby league. 

But the noises coming from the Wigan camp this week have underlined just how important the World Club Challenge is to the players, coaches and supporters involved. 

Players in Super League are only too aware of how the competition is compared to the NRL and they are eager to seize upon any opportunity to prove that the gap is much smaller than some would have you think.

Critics regularly claim that the Australians don’t place the same value on the World Club Challenge, citing the absence of key players or perceived lack of preparation. However this argument holds little weight, although the timing of the match needs reviewing.

I am a firm believer in the concept of a World Club Challenge and would in fact like to see it developed further, perhaps to include the losing Grand Finalists?

But those of you squirming uncomfortably as you recall the failed attempt at staging an expanded competition in 1997 need not panic!

Its current position in the rugby league calendar limits both the potential and stature of the World Club Challenge.

Although I recognise the obstacles to staging the match after the conclusion of the Super League and NRL season, I do not believe they are insurmountable and such a switch would be hugely beneficial. 

This year’s renewal looks to be one of the most evenly matched in the history of the competition. Both side’s look primed for action and with a capacity crowd in attendance it is likely to be a game that lives long in the memory. 

Let’s hope that we are celebrating another English victory on Monday morning. 

What do you think of the World Club Challenge? Is it time we looked to expand it? Do you agree it should be staged at the end of the season? Let us know your comments below.

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