As fans of Rugby League, we should all be getting pretty excited by the prospect of the 2018 World Club Challenge, right?
Super League champions Leeds Rhinos, who overcame the surprise package of 2017, Castleford Tigers at Old Trafford take on The Melbourne Storm- three-time NRL Premiers, but without the now-departed Cooper Cronk, following his move to Sydney Roosters.
As well as that, Wigan Warriors take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Hull FC face off with St George Illawarra Dragons a day after the showpiece event.
But it seems like the whole occasion has lost its magic. The anticipation and euphoria surrounding what is meant to be the greatest showdown in club Rugby League seems to have been replaced by a sense of normality and obligation.
It is no secret that NRL Clubs are far less bothered about the whole event than their English counterparts. For one, the opening game of the Australian season is still 21 days away and many sides are still only just getting back to pre-season training and building match fitness for the months ahead.
Just by looking at the number of younger players in the preliminary Souths squad, it is clear that Anthony Seibold and co are treating this as more of a fitness workout than a high intensity game of Rugby League.
With no Sam Burgess, John Sutton and Adam Reynolds, it could be argued that the Bunnies are going into the game halfheartedly, meaning that what could’ve been an intriguing match up between two highly skilful sides may now be a Wigan Warriors outfit coming up against a group of inexperienced youths hoping to make the NRL first-grade.
Events like the World Club Challenge- and indeed the World Club Series if re-introduced- deserve to be branded as a battle of brute force versus brute force, wit versus wit and skill versus skill.
So what needs to change?
Here are three suggestions that could turn the England-Australia showdown into the mouth-watering prospect that it used to be.
Idea One- Play The Match In Papua New Guinea
It appears that there is a growing appetite for the sport outside of its traditional heartlands. Whether it be the emergence of Lebanon, Papua New Guinea and even Canada, it is evident that the 13-man code no longer needs to be confined.
If officials are serious about growing the game, how about moving a big game like this overseas? A perfect initial location to test this idea would be Papua New Guinea.
In a country where Rugby League is second nature to many of those who live there, it would be wise to move to a place where the match would be appreciated- the recent World Cup is surely testament to how big an appetite there is for the game in PNG.
With ferocious and passionate crowds, combined with tough playing conditions and a rapturous atmosphere, moving the World Club Challenge here would generate enormous attention, resulting in a sold-out arena- something which a game of this magnitude deserves.
Idea Two- Winners Host The Next Edition
It is no secret that travelling 9,400 miles across the World is going to be a financial burden for some clubs, whilst also taking a physical toll on the players and coaches who make the trip.
One way to encourage competitiveness, especially if the Series format was brought back, would be to allow the winning competition to host the next series.
Surely this would encourage clubs from both continents to put their all into the event, hoping to bring the event back to their country in the following year.
Although there may be some financial reasons why the WCC moves from one country to another time and time again, this idea may be a good way to combat the normality and repetitiveness which has now become accustomed with the game.
Is this encourages more competitiveness and anticipation from fans on both sides of the pond, surely this must be considered.
Idea Three- Play a Triple Header All In One Arena
Now, this suggestion is largely down to the World Club Series best of three format returning. But if organisers took a chance and tested this idea in the coming years, it could very well re-capture the imagination of a wider pool of fans.
There are stadiums in both England and Australia which could be suitable for this- whether it be 90,000 packing into Wembley or 84,000 flooding into the ANZ Stadium, this concept would be sure to create one of the most memorable atmospheres seen at any event outside of the World Cup Final.
Having six sets of supporters arriving at a ground, not only cheering on their own team but their fellow competition sides as well, can only help to create a feel-good atmosphere and an event that Rugby League as a whole could be proud of.
The World Club Series deserves to be a magnificent spectacle- and an event of this magnitude might be the way to get Rugby League recognised by everyone, both inside and outside of the league community.
Have any other Suggestions? Let us know in the comments below:
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