Phil Clarke has high praise for Leeds and looks at the pros and cons of expanding the World Club Challenge.
Last Updated: 22/02/12 3:52pm
Congratulations to Leeds Rhinos for their success in the World Club Challenge.
It was an unforgettable night for everyone who attended and you could say that it was 'third time lucky' for the Rhinos after losing in their previous two attempts.
However, I think that hard work, commitment and desire were more important on the night than luck. In between the 40th and 60th minutes Manly had twice as much of the ball, much of it close to the Leeds tryline but Brian McDermott's men found a way to keep them out.
The first victory for a Super League side in the last four years has coincided with a debate about expanding the concept to include more teams and I would like to discuss the potential of doing that here.
In my opinion, I think that we need to break this debate down into three areas:
1. What do the players want?
2. What do the fans want?
3. What do the clubs/governing bodies want?
After being fortunate enough to play in the World Club Challenge on three occasions, the last in front of 50,000 in Brisbane, I'd say that it would be a game that every British player would want to experience. I say British because I am not sure about the Aussies.
From what I read, a State of Origin appearance is the bigger attraction to them. Every professional sportsman or woman is fiercely competitive and the chance to play against the best competition is essential if you want to be the best you can be.
Some critics have mentioned player burnout but I would counter this in two ways. Do the best players need to play in every game for their club? More interestingly, if you gave a player the choice of playing more games in a season and earning more money, or playing less games and possibly having a longer career, which would they choose?
Who are we to say how many games that they should play? One of the biggest reasons why they play is to earn an income. Should we restrict that?
Do supporters need something more than just knockout cup games and a home and away league programme?
The success of the Champions League in football and the European cups in rugby union seem to suggest yes. But is the rugby league supporter of the same mind? Do they just want to see occasional visits by teams from the NRL or do they want to travel to see their team play?
Unlike rugby union we struggle to get support for our international matches with fans seeming to have a closer affinity with their club teams. What impact would this have on international crowds? If an expanded World Club Challenge was played outside of the UK would supporters travel to the matches? From what little I have seen of England's cricket games in the Middle East this does not seem to be likely.
I would imagine that the desire here boils down to two things - financial and performance. The idea needs to make money for the clubs who are already struggling in difficult economic times. If the top four teams were entered into a World Club Challenge against the top four teams from the NRL who would get the money?
What impact would this have on the other 10 clubs in the Super League? Would it widen the gap further? Has the Champions League in football taken the top sides away from the rest of the Premier League because of the money that they make?
In terms of performance, it could be argued that by having more players playing more regularly against teams from the NRL it would help to drive up the standards, but I'm not sure. I don't think that it is as simple as that.
Nigel Wood from the RFL said that he thinks that we have four, five or six teams in our competition who would be competitive against the top teams from the NRL. It is 15 years since we last had this sort of competition and it would be interesting to see if he is right.
I have found that too many ideas are suffocated too early and not given a chance to be debated sensibly. It's important that an intelligent analysis of the pros and cons are examined and that all of the considerations are thought through.
What do we want to achieve?
One of the most important for me would be the impact on international rugby league
How could this tournament compliment and work alongside the planned international programme over the next five to 10 years? If we start by asking ourselves what is the purpose of expanding the WCC format we might be a bit clearer in what we are trying to achieve.
Many people say that for sport to be successful these days if has to be global, but I could contradict that by talking about Aussie Rules. Here is a sport that has no international future and yet it is incredibly successful in Australia.
I realise that I've written an article here with far more questions than answers and want to finish with two more.
How would it work? My suggestion would be to play it at the start of the year, possibly February. I would leave the Grand Final as the end of the season and then have the international programme. The location and tournament format is beyond me and I think we all need to do some more research.
How would it help the game? This is the biggest question that we need to agree with our counterparts in Australia. I know that we are both battling in our territories but need to try to come up with a better plan.
It is too easy in life to be cynical and critical and to dismiss a new idea when it is first put forward. We should take our time, refine, amend and tweak the proposal until we decide what to do.
I have no doubt that the first person to suggest that we shift to summer rugby was laughed at. Now it seems that the majority of people agree that it was a good idea. We need to mix the creative visionaries with the financial pragmatists to see if this idea has a future.
The one thing I am certain of was that winning for Wigan in Brisbane in 1994 is one of the best memories in my life.