With all the attention in the Rugby League world currently focused on the World Cup tournament, the impending end of another international tournament looks to have slipped under the radar.
For those who haven’t heard, and I’m tipping there would be a fair few, the Melbourne Storm have ‘withdrawn’ from 2018’s World Club Challenge in order to play a testimonial game to honour both Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston.
That’s right, a friendly pre-season game has trumped the supposed biggest fixture in the Rugby League calendar.
The clash of premiership heavy-weights. The NRL’s finest vs the Super League’s very best. The one off, EPIC encounter that will decide who is the best team in the world.
Except it doesn’t mean any of that … at least to Australian clubs, or at least the Melbourne Storm.
The Storm have opted not to travel the thousands of kilometres, adjust to the different time zone and climate, train in foreign territory and the back up for a game that ultimately sees the result forgotten in a matter of weeks.
For the record I’m a fan of the idea, although that far into the rugby league off-season I’ll watch anything even closely resembling the game I love. I always ensure the calendar is clear for the 9s, the Charity Shield and the World Club Challenge. Anything rugby league that is televised, especially after having months without the game, I’ll watch.
Seems I’m about the only one though.
The Storm obviously don’t think the trip is worth a shot at another trophy.
No one from the Cowboys, to my knowledge, has offered to go into battle for the sake of the NRL to take on the Rhinos.
Last year the NRL struggled to fulfill its quota of two sides, with the fifth placed Broncos making the trek with Premiers the Sharks. The Storm wanted no part of it, the Cowboys and Raiders weren’t rushing to board the 24 hour flight either.
Given the World Cup will eat into the off-season, I can’t see Wayne Bennett offering to bring his Broncos along for the ride again.
The only side I can see as anything even close to interested would perhaps be the Sharks, who would be looking to improve on their horror showing in the 2017 show piece.
The fact that Joe Burgess, who in 2016 had been plying his trade in the NRL, was the man of the match in the contest helped to further highlight the problems that have long plagued the contest.
Played in England almost exclusively, featuring a team that can be far different from the side who captured premiership glory, before an NRL game has even been played … it’s no wonder the Storm aren’t keen to make the trip.
It sets preparation back. Sure it delivers a great hit out, and yes a chance at a trophy, but it’s seen, at least to Australian clubs, as a pre-season friendly.
For those fans of the round ball game, it’s very similar to the Community Shield, where the Premier League winners from the year prior battle the FA Cup winners from the same year. A trophy is on the line, and it takes a massive achievement to qualify, but ultimately the three points in a competitive EPL game a week later means more.
So what will become of the concept?
As it stands, I can’t see the Storm/Rhinos game going ahead unless Leeds offer to travel, and even then it would need to fit into the Storm’s pre-season schedule.
If another side from the NRL was to travel to represent the honour of the game in Australia, would a win mean anything? Especially considering, in the past, we have sent sides over that haven’t even made the eight in the year prior to take on England’s elite.
I hope it goes ahead, but in future this fixture, if it’s going to continue, really needs to happen following the Grand Finals. No team is going to want to continue to train after winning the big one, but then again, if somehow this trophy is made to mean more, it could work.
If next year’s contest does go ahead, the Storm, much like the Sharks this year, will be a completely different side that contests the trophy.
But the fact the Storm don’t seem to care about the fixture at all probably ends all discussion …