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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
It is getting close to that time of years again when organisers will sit down with the NRL winners and Super League champions to thrash out details of the World Club Challenge.
This year's event which saw the Sydney Roosters beat Wigan Warriors in their own backyard was an enormous success yet the tournament remains criminally undervalued in the sporting calendar. Lacking a permanent structure has not helped with the event being reduced from a six-team tournament to a one-off game last season. But the showdown provided a spectacular occasion that is surely worthy of a long-term arrangement.
FULL TIME and your Roosters are the World Club Champions! #EastsToWin #WorldClubChallenge pic.twitter.com/1Fi9UrpHA2
— Sydney Roosters (@sydneyroosters) February 17, 2019
One of the biggest obstacles is the timing of the event with disagreement across the leagues as to when and where it should take place. Some NRL bosses would rather not take part at all but they remain in the minority.
Currently, the champions of either country's code can choose to opt-out of the event should they wish, a fact that also undermines the status of the event. Some would prefer to draft a long-term arrangement which commits clubs on both sides to the showdown and lays down criteria for the timing and location.
The history of the World Club Challenge stretches back to the first game between Eastern Suburbs and St. Helens held in Sydney back in 1976. That proved to be a one-off event before the format was resurrected in the 1987 season. On that occasion, Wigan ran out 8-2 winners over Manly-Warringah at the Central Park Stadium in England. The final was held every two or three years until 2000 when it became an annual event. Between 2015 and 2017, it was briefly expanded to included six-team before reverting to the single-game format. St Helens and Sydney Roosters are current favourites in the Rugby League betting to win their respective Grand Finals and contest the event.
The 2019 edition featured 22 international players from England, Australia and New Zealand including the captains of the England and Australia national teams giving it the feel of a test match. The event provided incredible entertainment for the 21,000 who attended and was a superb advert for the club game.
There is no denying that the game represents the pinnacle of the sport with the champions of the top-two rugby league nations going head-to-head for the title of world club champions.
This year's NRL final is heading for an epic showdown between Sydney Roosters and an in-form Melbourne Storm side but the winners may have to wait until February to face their Super League rivals. One suggestion is to host the event in October after the conclusion of the Super League and NRL club seasons and before the full international schedule gets underway. It would need to be played very soon after the domestic finals but that is unlikely to deter fans keen to see their teams crowned world champions before the focus shifts to the international program.
There is also a case to be made for hosting the event in a neutral country to level the playing field and to tie in with the international schedule. Currently, one team gets a significant home advantage, although that does not always guarantee victory as was the case at the DW Stadium in 2019.
There is no reason that the authorities should not be able to form a plan that considers all of these factors and sets out a blueprint for the long-term future of the event.