The Rugby League World Club Challenge…how low can it get?

A friend asked me yesterday how I “rate” tomorrow morning’s World Rugby
League Club Challenge between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Leeds Rhinos.

I think the best way to give a “rating” is to go back over half a
century, and tell the story about one of the many and celebrated clashes
between Mr Speaker (Archibald Gabriel) Cameron, and the firebrand Labor MP,
Eddie Ward.

When Eddie Ward did not bow to the Speaker when entering the Chamber,
Cameron ordered him to do bow. “How low must I bow, Mr Speaker?”.

“How low can you get?” Was Speaker Cameron’s retort.

The relevance of that incident to the World Rugby League Club Challenge
will escape readers – but it’s about how low the credibility of the Challenge
has been sunk.

Firstly, the game is being played before the start of the Australian,
and now England, seasons. It will be as cold as John Anderson’s glare at Tony
Windsor.

Secondly, it is to be refereed by Australia’s Sean Hampstead…who
had to be punted from last years State of Origin series because he was simply
not up the task. He went close to being punted from the NRL premiership at one
stage, but was saved by the shortage of even moderately performing referees to
take his place.

If you are having a credible “world” club challenge, then you must
surely have the best referee in the business. I am sure Sean is a nice bloke,
but he is not the best referee in the game…or anywhere near it!

The credibility sank even lower when the Bulldogs coach, Steve Folkes,
called on the ARL/NRL to cut back on the international representative season
this year. And he did so from the Leeds Hotel where he was preparing the
Bulldogs for an “international” match, participation in which was not
compulsory!

But it sunk about as low as Mr Speaker Cameron hoped Eddie Ward would
bow when it was revealed that “Bradley Clyde” has been added to the Bulldogs
team.

If you are a recent, and very welcome, “convert” to rugby league you
may never have heard of Bradley Clyde, and you can hardly be blamed for that.

Brad Clyde is one of the best players the game has produced, certainly
in the last twenty years. And he is also one of the most decent, and upstanding
it has ever produced – not an off field blemish in a long career.

But he last played a game of rugby league in July 2001…playing for
Leeds during a brief stint with the club after his highly successful career
with the Canberra Raiders.

Now we know cricketers can made successful comebacks (such as Bobby
Simpson) and so can jockeys (Darren Beadman), but a rugby league forward who
has not played the game for four years. It really stretches credibility…but if
you accept that the World Club Challenge has zero credibility, then that is not
a problem.

Now I have waffled on about the extraneous issues for a good reason.
Its almost impossible to write a credible “preview” for the game to be played
tomorrow morning our time.

The Bulldogs have not played for over four months, meaning that the
Leeds Rhinos have a start because they have played a number of trials (with the
UK League season to open next weekend).

And the Bulldogs are without their standout player of the finals, Willie
Mason, thanks to an injury incurred in yet another low credibility game when
the Kangaroos played a “United States” Team on the way home from England.

Despite the game’s zero credibility, Channel Nine will show it
“live”…but whether it is “live” or “on delay” remains to be seen.

The Rhinos team contains a few names familiar to us. Marcus Bai, the
PNG born former Melbourne Storm star and Chris McKenna, a standout player in
the NRL and Queensland Maroons star among them.

Marcus Bai was one of the stars of the Rhinos premiership win last year
and if he is on fire, the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them.

Sadly, the Bulldogs have been hit hard by injury – and that accounts
for why Brad Clyde, now on the club’s coaching staff, has been added to the
team.

So taking everything into
account – and the weather in particular – you would have to go for the Rhinos
to win. One can only hope that the Bulldogs can overcome injury, and adjust to
the climate, and put up a good show…….at least for those of us who will get up
early tomorrow morning to watch the “match”.

Interest in the game here is so low that the sports betting agencies
seem to be giving it a wide berth. For example, this weekend Sportsbet will
take your money on the Super Bowl, the One Day finals…Inzamam Ul-Haq’s and
Ricky Ponting’s score, a boxing contest between Cory Spinks and Zab Judah (not
sure who or where), the Academy wards, The National Greyhound Derby at
Wentworth Park, the main trots events at Moonee Valley, and the Bellsouth Open
tennis series in Chile!

But the World Rugby League Club Challenge – your best chance to put a
bet on is to find one of those non-existent SP bookies in your friendly local
pub or club and see if the will take your money!

The sooner this great non-event is out of the road, and the focus can
get back to the lead up to what is going to be a great 2005 NRL premiership the
better!

Outside Centre can be contacted at outsidecentre10 @hotmail.com