The next World Club Challenge will take place at Melbourne Storm's AAMI Park in mid-February 2018, with Grand Final winners Leeds Rhinos making the long trip to southern Australia for the right to be crowned "World Champions". Yet, it is a miracle that the game is being held at all with NRL clubs showing their displeasure at having to travel to the UK to play in the competition as they have done in recent years. The fixture is, effectively, a scaled-down World Club Challenge and is a blow for UK-based Rugby League fans, who have become accustomed to an annual party of clubs from the elite southern hemisphere competition coming to the counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire in recent years.

Whilst British Rugby League fans purr at the thought of the world's best being showcased on the international stage in their hometowns and cities, Australian fans - and it appears teams - could not care less. Why?

Travel impact

World Club Challenge games are usually played in late February, with the Super League sides involved taking a week's break from the domestic competition to play these one-off fixtures. NRL sides, on the other hand, have to travel to the UK barely a fortnight before their season starts in early March. It is unfortunate that the two islands are a 24-hour flight apart as, inevitably, the consequences of such a disruption so deep into Aussie sides' pre-season could hurt NRL teams' performances on the field just a week or so later in their main competition.

That NRL Grand Final winners Melbourne Storm demanded the fixture to be played in Australia for 2018 is evidence of the fact that Aussie sides look at the World Club Challenge as nothing more than an inconvenience.

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Storm themselves have already contributed to the downfall of the World Club Series that replaced the one-game Challenge in 2015, as Grand Final runners-up - they quashed plans to expand the series in 2017 by announcing that they would not be participating due to it interfering with their pre-season. And, the humiliation of the Series was complete when Brisbane Broncos were the only side that finished in the top eight from the 2016 season that accepted an invitation to play. Rather than an expanded series of perhaps four fixtures, just two were finalised for 2017.

Every World Club Challenge and Series since its inauguration back in 1997 has been held in the UK except 2014 when Wigan visited the Allianz Stadium to play Sydney Roosters. Perhaps NRL sides are just fed up of coming over and, even though the Aussie sides receive financial compensation for the travel costs from their Super League hosts, it has not been enough to sway attitudes. No side was willing to make the journey to the UK in 2018 which, for League Leaders' Shield winners Castleford Tigers - who expressed their interest in being involved and ticked the required boxes - was a bitter blow following their most successful ever top-flight season.

NRL and State of Origin

Both the NRL and the State of Origin series undoubtedly take precedence over any other competition. Even the recent World Cup failed to stoke up vast amounts of interest in Australia where only one game sold out. For Australians, anything other than the NRL and State of Origin is seen as a waste of time. If the interest from the fans was there for the World Club Challenge, then surely the teams would follow, but the Australian game is very much "in-house".

From the grassroots to those in charge, there is a great deal of apathy for a game or a series of games against Super League's best, especially if it is held in the UK. Yet, for the 31,000 spectators that filled the Allianz Stadium back in 2014, it was a new experience that they had not witnessed for decades in their own country. Perhaps, therefore, if the World Club Challenge or Series was held on a rotational basis - one year Down Under and one year in the UK - the idea could be a success in Australia, though, it is unlikely to ever rival the grandeur of the NRL or the State of Origin.

Compare this attitude to supporters in the UK and the difference could not be greater; the majority of Rugby League fans on these shores eat, breathe and sleep Rugby League and would watch amateur sides such as Normanton Knights and Featherstone Lions do battle if it was televised. The Super League takes precedence for supporters in the top flight, but the Challenge Cup is a close second, whilst the World Club Challenge has continued to sell-out stadiums in recent years - 21,000, for example, filled Wigan's DW Stadium when they hosted Cronulla Sharks in 2017. Fans up and down the country - as ardent as they are - were also willing to wake up at 4am for #England's games in the World Cup, would Australians do likewise? Probably not because the international game is simply swallowed up by the domestic equivalent in Australia.


There is another way of looking at the apathy of Australian fans and clubs towards the World Club Challenge: arrogance. Maybe NRL sides and their supporters believe they are 'too good' for their English counterparts. The World Club Series in 2015 and 2016 - which consisted of three Super League sides playing three NRL sides - produced a 6-0 victory for the Aussies with all three English sides - Leeds, St Helens and Wigan - thrashed in the 2016 Series. And, whilst the 2017 watered-down competition finished with the Super League sides victorious in a 2-0 whitewash, Australians still have something of a "high-and-mighty" attitude when it comes to Rugby League. The national side's dominance in the past decade has added fuel to this fire and extended the belief that no one can touch the Aussies at the sport.

Even the salary cap Down Under is inflated to such an extent that the English game simply cannot compete. The investment and ability to build world-class sides are on a scale that dwarfs Super League. The creation of a "marquee player" for Super League sides gives clubs the opportunity to purchase international stars, but, there can be no comparison to the $9.4 million salary cap that the NRL will have in 2018. This equates to over £5.2 million. Bearing in mind that the Super League salary cap stands at £1.9 million for 2018, the NRL is streets ahead. This quite obvious ever-widening disparity between the two competitions could well explain why NRL sides and their supporters feel that the English game is inferior and that the "World Champions" tag is irrelevant.

On the other hand, England has been a disappointment on the world stage in recent years - this year's appearance in the World Cup final for example was England's first in 22 years. England Rugby League fans want their domestic sides tested against Australia's best to grasp just how close England could be to finally catch up to the Aussies. But, why wouldn't you want to test yourself against the best in the world? English sides have been determined to make the World Club Challenge a success, but, time and again, the Aussies have shown they just do not have the appetite for it.

Time to do something about it

The World Club Challenge needs to be either scrapped or reformed in a way that could make it work for both hemispheres. The competition could perhaps enjoy greater success if the UK held it one year and Australia the next or even if the date was switched to the end of the regular season rather than before the new season, but, even then it would be treated as a training ground match by NRL sides. The latter and their supporters simply do not care about testing themselves against British sides; they are, after all, competing in a domestic competition that the Super League cannot keep up with financially.

UK fans, however, want to see their best pitted against Australia's best; it is a showpiece event in the Rugby League calendar in Britain and one which teams hold in high regard because it is a measure of how far their club has come. Australian sides and their fans, in contrast, have an air of superiority about them and would probably not care less if NRL teams never played a Super League side again. #RugbyLeague #RL