The end of the world?

Martin Gleeson and Darrell Goulding (centre) tackle St George Illawarra Dragons' Brett Morris (bottom) during the World Club Challenge match at the DW Stadium last year
Martin Gleeson and Darrell Goulding (centre) tackle St George Illawarra Dragons' Brett Morris (bottom) during the World Club Challenge match at the DW Stadium last year
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RUSSELL Crowe wants it played in Las Vegas and Dubai, Hong Kong and Australia have been trumpeted as potential locations for the World Club Challenge.

Yet where’s the focal point of tonight’s match? Headingley.

I’m not knocking Leeds’ stadium. Of all of the away grounds (have you noticed that all the Super League clubs on this side of the Pennines have new stadia, unlike Yorkshire?) it’s actually one of my favourite, and Leeds have as much right to cash-in on a successful night as Wigan did a year ago when St George-Illawarra arrived in town.

Tonight’s encounter should provide a great spectacle, a real contest between two champions, two talented teams.

But the game is a lose-lose for Super League.

If Leeds win, it will no doubt be greeted with moans of travel, temperatures and Manly being under-done, while an Aussie win would – of course – prove yet again the NRL is better than our competition.

And that’s the problem with the World Club. As a stand-alone, early season event, it’s good.

But it carries no credibility, and the question has to be asked, how long can it carry on in its current guise?

Plenty of good people have plenty of good ideas on how to improve the competition. Jamie Peacock, the England prop, used the media launch of this year’s match to again call for the game to be played on a neutral venue, and with more teams.

“I’m a big fan of it but it needs freshening up,” he said. “It’s time the concept was taken forward.”

Many would agree.

While few would like to see a repeat of the expanded ‘97 Super League series, when many of the northern hemisphere teams were whitewashed, calls for expanding it to include the top two, or four, from both competitions would seem feasible.

Sadly, though, the World Club has fallen victim to the same problem that has so often troubled rugby league – a lack of leadership.

With no Tests planned for later this year, it would seem like the perfect opportunity to test the waters. More and more clubs are feeling the benefits of travel – Saracens RU are taking a game to Hong Kong later this year, and the NFL continues to stage a match at Wembley.

Convincing the Aussies of the pros of radical action may be tough – despite the money on offer.

But organisers need to take action, if the World Club is ever going to be seen as anything more than just an early-season sideshow.