Has the World Club Challenge run its course?

The World Club Challenge is a novel concept; the idea of the Super League champions playing their #NRLcounterparts should be a celebration of the world's best going head-to-head in a classically tough encounter. But, recently, the fixture - or fixtures when taking into consideration the World Club Series - has become something of a damp squib. Whether it's the growing gulf between the English top flight and their Australian equivalent - with Aussie sides having triumphed in five out of the last six Challenges or Series - or because NRL clubs are rapidly losing interest, the concept seems to be on its last legs.

Growing disparity between the two domestic leagues

Whilst many commentators and fans seem to feel that the Super League is experiencing somewhat of a decline in standards, the same cannot be said of the NRL.

The latter is growing at a remarkable rate - both in entertainment and monetary value. The NRL salary cap for 2018, for example, is capped at a staggering $9.4 million, or, £5.3 million in British money. This figure simply dwarfs the figure that Super League clubs will operate at for this season - a mere £1.9 million. Clearly, a £3.4 million salary cap difference inevitably means that the NRL will first attract and then keep the world's best players while Super League clubs simply have to "pick off" the remaining scraps.

It is becoming increasingly rare, therefore, that Super League sides can attract the cream of the NRL in their prime. Daly Cherry-Evans - captain of the Manly Sea Eagles - is rumoured to have a salary of $1.3 million, or, just over £730,000. Super League players can only dream of earning such a whack.

With a salary cap and subsequent wages so high, is there any wonder why Australian clubs are beginning to have a tight monopoly on the world's best players? Though Super League clubs - Wigan and Warrington be precise - won their Series' matches against their NRL counterparts in 2017, the NRL currently has a run of nine victories from the last eleven matches played between English and Australian sides, following Melbourne's 38-4 victory against Leeds. And, with the injection of further money into the Australian game - a pay deal of $980 million was announced in November 2017 - the gulf in talent and class is only going to grow. Do Rugby League fans in this country really want to see our clubs get embarrassed on an international stage?

NRL clubs have lost interest

The World Club Challenge is majorly flawed in another respect; NRL clubs simply do not care about the fixture anymore - if they ever did in the first place. Even though Warrington - whom finished the 2017 Super League as leaders - recorded a superb 27-18 victory over Brisbane Broncos in the 2017 Series, the Broncos were the only side that finished in the 2016 NRL top eight that were willing to make the trip to these shores.

Even more damning for the concept, this year's NRL competitor, Melbourne, had already contributed to the downfall of the World Club Series that replaced the one-game Challenge in 2015. As Grand Final runners-up, they quashed plans to expand the series in 2017 by announcing that they would not be participating due to it interfering with their pre-season. Evidently, the pull of being able to compete against top Super League sides was just not enough.

This reluctance is almost certainly down to the fact that both the NRL and the State of Origin series take precedence over any other competition. Even the recent World Cup failed to stoke up vast amounts of interest in Australia where only one game sold out - and that was only because the stadium held just over 13,000 fans. For Australians, anything other than the NRL and State of Origin is seen as a waste of time. And, this feeling inevitably transcends to the management and playing staff of the clubs too.

Melbourne, for example, would only play this year's World Club Challenge if it was held in Australia. This was compounded by the fact that no other NRL side would travel to England either. Effectively, Leeds had a gun pointed at their heads and, perhaps for the sake of Rugby League, the club agreed to Melbourne's demands.

A risk either way

Super League clubs are, currently, fighting a losing battle; do they give in to Aussie clubs' demands to save the concept, or, do they put their foot down in an attempt to call the NRL's bluff, but risk destroying the concept and the ties between the two leagues at the same time?

Even if Super League - as Leeds understandably did this year - bows to the NRL's demands, the results could still be harmful for the English competition. Whilst the Rhinos went down defiantly against Melbourne, it was hardly an advertisement for Rugby League; Storm were far too strong and fast for Grand Final winners Leeds. The sight of England international Kallum Watkins being chased down by one of Melbourne's fliers was the final nail in the coffin.

Watkins, a superb centre with pace to burn, would have likely gone all the way to score if he had been playing a fellow Super League side. As it was, Watkins - and Leeds - were up against the most successful NRL side in the competition's three decade-long history. The viewer could not even say that the scoreline flattered the home side either; Storm were just a class above. It is this class which casts a worrying cloud over the concept as a whole. Whilst Super League valiantly clings on to the World Club Challenge idea, the NRL is seemingly becoming too good and too arrogant for the concept to continue.


Callum Walker

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