Super League’s maiden World Club Series triumph has strengthened the Rugby Football League’s hand as they step up negotiations for the 2018 event, according to chief executive Nigel Wood.
The series, expanded in 2015 from a one-off World Club Challenge into a six-team tournament, was scaled back this year after a lack of interest from NRL clubs and only took place at all because of the support of England and Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett.
Twelve months ago we were all pretty crestfallen, questioning whether this concept could be made to workNigel Wood
Bennett, a noted internationalist, remains committed to the idea despite his club’s shock 27-18 defeat by Warrington on Saturday, and Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan spoke of his desire to return in the immediate aftermath of his side’s 22-6 loss to Wigan on Sunday.
Now Wood is hoping the performances of the Super League clubs will encourage other previously reluctant NRL clubs to support the series.
“It’s a great boost for the Super League, it’s a high spot for the competition,” Wood said. “It certainly feels a lot better 12 months on.
“I think those people who questioned the validity of international club rugby league will have to think again on the back of this.
“You’ve heard some very sincere words from the coaching staff of all four competing clubs and it’s up to us and the NRL to make sure we deliver a concept that can work for everyone.
“I don’t know how well known it was but Wayne was significantly influential in making sure the Broncos came over to make sure we got a series rather than just a single stand-alone game.
“The most important thing is that the British sides are competitive and that’s the way to get more conviction from the NRL. We’ve already had conversations with our colleagues at the NRL and we’ll have more this week to see what we can do for 2018 to give it the appropriate positioning in the calendar.”
Wood says it is important to avoid a repeat of the situation last year when the 2017 series was not finalised until October and is hoping progress can be made within the next fortnight, although he concedes there are difficulties to overcome.
The NRL works closely with the Australian Players’ Association on issues such as player welfare and, with the World Cup not due to finish until December 2, it has already put its traditional pipe-opener, the All Stars game, into cold storage and is considering the future of the Auckland 9s.
“There’s no cut-off point but everybody needs certainty,” Wood said. “We’ve got to work out what impact the World Cup has in 2018 and there are issues they have to work through like their player agreement.”
Both Wigan and Warrington had been prepared to play this year’s matches in Australia and Wood accepts the English victories over the weekend has increased the prospect of NRL clubs hosting the 2018 series.
Wigan played their 2014 World Club Challenge against Sydney Roosters Down Under while Warrington have played matches against NRL opponents during pre-season training camps in Australia.
“We were already looking at things like that anyway,” Wood added. “Everybody in this part of the world believes international club rugby league has got more to offer than just an occasional game.
“But it’s not straight forward, it’s not like you can go across on a Wednesday night and play a game. You’ve got to work through it and these results can only aid that discussion.”
Wood has also not ruled out the possibility of starting the Super League season in Australia, saying: “If it works for everybody, then we’d be very supportive.”
The RFL will also consider taking the event to neutral territory such as Hong Kong or Toronto, which will stage League 1 rugby in 2017.
“It’s very possible,” Wood said. “I’m sure there will be no shortage of people who want first-class sport such as this.
“Those are options but we’ve got to see what is possible. We don’t want to run before we can walk. Twelve months ago we were all pretty crestfallen, questioning whether this concept could be made to work. Now, 12 months on, the landscape l