Off the Wall

The long off season ends this weekend - with the Charity Shield match between the Dragons and the Rabbitohs on Saturday night and then the World Club Championship on Sunday.

The Charity Shield match between two traditional rivals has undergone a resurgence in interest in recent years - but I am not sure the same can be said for the World Club Championship, played between the NRL premiers and the UK Super League champions.

The timing of the latter simply favours the UK team. It is staged before the NRL season, and five or six rounds into the UK season. Since it became an annual event in 2000 it has always been played in England.

Even the Melbourne Storm, used to Melbourne's notoriously fickle weather, are likely to find this weekend's conditions trying.

I looked up the Leeds weather report for the weekend - sleet, rain, and maybe snow! If the event is to be genuinely regarded as a world club championship, the conditions under which it is played need to be fair to both teams.

It should alternate between England and Australia fullstop.

The argument that it would not draw a crowd in Australia is nonsense. And suppose it was too hot in February? Well, what is worse, too hot or too cold?

I don't quite know why administrators here have allowed their UK counterparts to hijack the event - but hijack it they have.

Staging the game at the end of the NRL and Super League seasons is probably out of the question - now we effectively have annual end of season international matches.

Holding the game in Australia in alternate years would also generate more interest in it here. Judging by the limited media coverage it is almost a non-event for most fans outside of the Storm.

If it is to continue as an annual event, it needs to be taken seriously - and that simply means playing it in both countries.

Meanwhile the official pre-season trials will end this weekend - with next weekend being pretty much a non-football weekend in the lead up to the first premiership matches on Friday 12 March.

I suspect there is no appetite in NRL clubs for a return to a pre-season competition as we had a couple of decades or so ago, and as the AFL has now.

The one advantage the AFL has is that it is getting extensive pay television coverage for its pre-season competition. Our coverage is confined to the Charity Shield, and this year the All Stars v Indigenous match...which rated very well.

There also seems to be a shift in the programme for trial matches away from regional centres, especially inland regional centres. That has disappointed country fans, but one suspects clubs under financial pressure are going to continue to play trials at venues where they can get the maximum crowd.

Best wishes to the Dragons and the Rabbitohs for the Charity Shield match tomorrow night (live on Fox Sports). Both clubs are closing in on 10,000 members for the 2010 season and are among the pacesetters in the challenge to lift club memberships...and that should help deliver a near record crowd tomorrow night!

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