The weekend has seen calls for an expanded World Club Challenge, and it might not be a bad time to investigate such a move.
A gulf is beginning to develop within Super League, where the top few teams are growing far superior to those at the bottom, and it comes to a point where they will want to challenge themselves further.
The club game is rugby league’s undoubted strength. No matter what is tried with the international scene, league will always be in union’s shadow. There would be no harm retaining international competition, and particularly the World Cup, as long as teams full of Australians and Englishman – Australia and England aside of course – can be avoided.
A showcase World Club Challenge event, perhaps consisting of the top 4/5 from both Super League and the NRL, could draw huge media and corporate attention.
The biggest challenge is fitting it in.
Let’s start by scrapping the Super League play-offs. The team that tops the league ladder at the end of the season should be the champions.
Form is temporary, class is permanent. Leeds managed to string together six wins at the end of the year, which meant they were able to become champions from fifth place.
Last season, Warrington were class. So to were Wigan. For parts of the season, St Helens and Huddersfield were too.
Leeds are a champion team. They have built a Super League dynasty the right way, bringing through home grown talent, and building their team around it. It is a model that Wigan and Huddersfield are now both replicating, and it’s something St Helens have done too.
But they are now, theoretically, the best team in the world, when for mine, they aren’t even the best team in England. That doesn’t add up.
With the play-offs scrapped, this will enable the top four teams to take part in an expanded World Club Challenge competition at the end of the season. Of course, this depends on the NRL marrying up their season with ours, and whether they would scrap their own play-offs is another issue entirely.
The teams placed 5th-12th in Super League could then play in an end of season cup competition of some sort (the Heinz Big Soup Cup?!).
That would leave the bottom two teams, who could enter in to a play-off with the top few teams from the Championship.
Not only does this scrap the artificial process of promoting teams purely on their off-field prowess, it gives the leading Championship teams the opportunity to earn their place in the top flight on merit. The box ticking process could still remain, but opening the door each year would have a positive impact.
Of course, the full time outfits would enter the play-offs as favourites, but the advantage wouldn’t necessarily be as unfair as some might think. The top Championship teams, such as Featherstone, will have the momentum and winning mentality, which will no doubt close the gap between themselves and the bottom two Super League teams, likely to have been on the end of some battering’s themselves.
This process could also result in some valuable funds being generated for the Championship league as a whole.
By doing this, rugby league can pursue the commercial growth that an expanded World Club Challenge may well bring, while the clubs not involved can still look at developing themselves and generating much needed revenue.
The top end of this system could be run every two years, enabling a Four Nations competition to take place in alternate years – in anticipation of the usual player complaints about too many games.
In the alternate years, the top four Super League teams would just join in the “Heinz Big Soup Cup” with the teams placed 5th-12th.
Scrapping the domestic play-offs could mean that internationals could be played as well. While the Grand Final has become a showpiece event, there’s no reason why a “Heinz Big Soup Cup” final wouldn’t be a high profile event, and the World Club Challenge showpiece could be built up to be an international showpiece.
Over to you, ARL.