The big question in the lead up to the game is: will Saints compete with their Australian rivals after their recent dip in form? The champions have already lost to Harlequins and Wakefield in successive weeks, and didn’t really look their best in a narrow win over Huddersfield.
If St Helens cannot improve their showing when they take on Brisbane, the Broncos will surely rip the British side to shreds. That would bring back painful memories of Saints’ 38-0 loss to Sydney Roosters at the Reebok in 2003.
However, there is a strong body of opinion suggesting that the only reason for St Helens’ poor form thus far has been the upcoming World Club Challenge. The Saints players have let their minds wander off the ball in the past few weeks. Without any disrespect to the Quins and Wildcats, this explanation is a strong possibility.
While that is bad news as far as their standing in the Super League is concerned, it could be good news as far as Friday night’s game goes. The champions could be better prepared for the World Club Challenge than it was feared they would be before the start of the season.
Therefore, the Knowsley Road club may be going into this game having saved their best for the Aussie champs. That could bring back memories of the 2001 World Club Challenge, when the Reebok Stadium hosted St Helens’ defeat of the Broncos.
So perhaps St Helens will not be easy-beats on Friday night. Brisbane will be under no illusions as to the mammoth task that confronts them. If both sides play up to their potential – and at their best they are both amazing to watch – this could be one of the classic World Club Challenges.
Hull Kingston Rovers have enjoyed the kind of start to the season that they must have been fantasising about ever since that October night in Warrington. The National League One champions have won two from two games, and lie third in the Super League table.
Okay, it is far too early to make any predictions about their survival or otherwise. But if the Robins continue in this vein they will certainly make a fight of Super League survival, and scotch talk of the gap between Super League and National League being unbridgeable.
A few years ago Hull KR would certainly not have competed in a Super League competition. But times change in all sports – some teams grow stronger and some teams grow weaker. And that’s why introducing the franchise system is such a impenetrably stupid idea.
Last week I commented on a London youngster that had become rugby league’s youngest ever referee. However, Chris Lee e-mailed me to say that he has known younger referees taking up the whistle at the Widnes Referees’ Society. Obviously, I apologise for the mistake.
However, the original point I made – that youngsters like this young man make furthering expansion worthwhile – still stands. What I would add to that now is: we must not lose sight of rugby league’s own heartlands even as we further the expansionist cause.
So I sincerely hope that the Widnes Referees’ Society continues in its excellent work. It could be that future full-time refs are being uncovered – both up north and down south.
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