World club challenge … and is rugby league giving its rivals a head start?

A
couple of Crikey readers have taken me to task for berating the World
Rugby League Club Challenge between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the
Leeds Rhinos over the weekend.

While I retract nothing, the game did have a couple of highlights.

And
the biggest came as no surprise to me, as readers will know. I have not
the slightest doubt that the Bulldogs Sonny Bill Williams is the game’s
next superstar – and rugby league will be truly blessed if he is.

The
fact that he is a Kiwi is of marginal relevance and disappointment,
don’t be at all surprised that if we soon see a rule change allowing
him to play State of Origin for NSW – with some compensation for the
Maroons with another rule bending exercise.

I don’t really care if the rules are changed because the more fans see if this truly outstanding talent the better!

Just
when it looked like the Rhinos were going to truly trounce the
Bulldogs, Williams almost single handed turned the game around, and
gave the ageing, tiring Rhinos a few hits they will remember, and feel,
for some time.

The kids a star in the making and anyone who
sneaks back from holidays and gets into training early in the middle of
summer surely deserves to be.

The final score 39-32 reads
like a 20-20 cricket match result, but predictably, the UK press have
proclaimed the Rhinos as “World Champions”. The team will probably get
MBE’s, and if Little John consents, coach Tony Smith (brother of the
Eels Brian) might even get knighted.

I don’t often agree
with Phil Gould, but his column in yesterday’s “Sun Herald” sets out a
powerful case again the match being called a World Championship the way
it is currently constructed.

And just one more point. I
looked up the Rhinos rather impressive website to see what preparation
the team had in the run-up to the game. The Rhinos have played FIVE
trial matches in recent weeks, the first being on Boxing Day!

The Bulldogs had not played one trial before arriving in the depth of the northern winter for Saturday’s game.

That’s
like putting a horse straight out of the spelling paddock into the
Melbourne Cup, and expecting it to do well against the favourite which
has had lead up runs in the Caulfield Cup and a race like the Hotham
Handicap.

The Leeds Rhinos are “World Champions”? I think not!

Is Rugby League Giving Its Rivals a Head Start?

Channel
Nine did televise the weekend game live, so I humbly apologise for
daring to suggest otherwise. But that’s basically it for rugby league
fans for a while, especially on free to air television.

The
only televised match between now and the start of the NRL premiership
on the weekend of March 11 to 13 is the annual St George v South Sydney
Charity Shield on February 19…..and that will only be shown on Fox
Sports.

So it’s a bit like quaffing down the canapés and champers and then having to wait a couple of hours for the entrée!

In
the meantime the Rugby Union Super Twelve series gets under way next
week, as does the AFL’s Wizard Cup pre-season competition, with all
games on television, mainly Fox Sports and Fox Footy.

And
with the domestic international cricket season over (mercifully) the
print media and radio will be giving the union and the rules plenty of
coverage.

Rugby League does not have a formal pre-season
competition though it used to with games being played in country and
regional centres, and televised live on commercial television. Clubs
take part in organised trial matches, again mostly in regional centres,
such as the Sharks v Eels trial in Lismore last Saturday night which
drew a capacity crowd.

But none of the trials over the next
three to four weeks will be televised, even though most will be played
before sell out crowds.

What rugby league might do is to
revert to a pre-season trial structure that does not impose any
additional burdens on clubs. And that can be done and become part of
the bargaining power when the NRL negotiates the new television rights
contract.

The head start the AFL and Union get ought not be dismissed as irrelevant.

And
why is rugby league not starting until the second weekend in March? It
would not have anything to do with the fact that the previous weekend
will be taken up with saturation coverage of a car race in Melbourne?

When Kerry says “jump”, the NRL, like Cricket Australia says – “hurdles or steeples, or both, Sir?”

The sooner the NRL follows the AFL lead and shares its free to air coverage between more than one network the better!