Weekend Verdict: High shots and one set of rules

Souths were just too good for St Helens. Critics of the series bemoaned the fact that it was the teams that finished 8th (Brisbane) and 11th (St George) that had come over to play Wigan and Warrington.

But perhaps we should be thankful it wasn’t the top three in both competitions.

Despite the format, and the one-sided finale, the weekend has been a success. Very good crowds, lots of talking points and some good rugby league.

I don’t think anyone pretends that Super League is quite at the level of the NRL yet, but we have to start somewhere.

It’s more a case of what the World Club Series does to help the wider sport, not just commercially, but in uniting the way rugby league is played around the world.

When Benji Marshall threw a pass out of the back door on the first tackle in his own half late on, there were hearts in mouths Down Under. A Dragons fan described it as a “brain explosion”.

We knew better of course. The glorious free play rule. One of the ever increasing differences between our version of rugby league and the NRL’s.

It was bordering on cringeworthy listening to commentators explaining how particular incidents in the match would have played out different in different hemispheres. Not their fault of course, but someone needs to sort it out.

And just what are “Super League rules”? There’s no such thing. Last time I checked, all rugby league (in the UK at least) was played the same.

Tony Smith implied that referee Ben Thaler officiated the game in a different way to a Super League match – there were at least much fewer stoppages than usual, courtesy of a lower penalty count.

It’s hardly surprising the officials struggle to reach a desired standard of consistency when the whole basis of the sport they are refereeing is fragmented depending on where, and by whom, a game is played.

That said, you couldn’t accuse Thaler of inconsistency on Friday, having twice declined to sin-bin St George Illawarra players for high tackles.

You can, though, understand fan frustrations at the decisions – particularly looking over what has happened in the first two rounds of Super League, and that’s before recalling the three sin bins seen during a pre-season friendly at the same ground back in January.

But it gets people talking. Football thrives on the attention every single decision attracts, be it a controversial penalty decision, a dive or a bad tackle. For too long, we’ve been talking about what happens off the pitch. Rugby league needs the debate. We don’t need to be patronising towards people who question a decision.

Well done if you are able to name the sponsor of this year’s World Club Series. AFEX it was. Announced barely 24 hours before the competition, and with very little exposure – First Utility had the on-pitch branding and the post pads.

Two years ago, PROBIZ were announced as World Club Challenge sponsors in a similar timeframe.

Considering the build-up, exposure and significance the series has carried, the RFL’s commercial team has missed a golden opportunity for a new sponsor to gain a positive introduction to the sport. Rugby league needs to show it can give value to sponsors, and it seems AFEX got little value out of this weekend – regardless of what they paid or what their objectives were.

Although there was no Super League this weekend, there was a full programme of Championship fixtures, with the exception of the postponed game at Workington.

 

It was a tough opening away day for London Broncos, who were humbled 40-6 at Sheffield. Going down a division was supposed to be the making of the Broncos, so hopefully today’s result isn’t a sign of things to come.

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