PETER Doust is many things but he’s no loose cannon. In fact, the St George Illawarra chief executive is such a diplomat that sometimes it’s hard to figure out the message behind his carefully chosen words.
I can’t recall Dousty criticising the NRL too often all the time he’s been involved in Saints or the joint venture Dragons – which is why we should all be listening to what he says about the World Club Challenge. “When I went to the NRL to discuss the whole subject with them, they said ‘well, whatever you reckon’. They said ‘if you don’t want to go, you don’t have to’,” Doust said in the lead-up to Monday morning’s match.
“They didn’t have a great deal of experience in it. They haven’t taken much interest in it, either, for that number of years, which I think they should. It seems to have been (organised on the run) and I don’t think that’s good for the game.”
The World Club Challenge, esteemed reader, is at a crossroads.
Don’t be fooled by the full house at DW Stadium that you saw on television or the champagne being sprayed around at fulltime. I have covered every WCC decider since 1994 and I can tell you that the interest the match now generates outside of the British club involved – and certainly outside rugby league – in the UK has never been lower.
Or, to quote respected journalist Dave Hadfield (known to long-time RLW readers as George Dunkerly): “This is the worst promoted World Club Challenge, including the 1987 game which the Rugby Football League actually wanted to stop being played!”
Dave and I were the only newspaper journalists at the Friday media conference with the coaches. Just one agency man and a local TV hack and that’s it. Not one UK rugby league writer attended any of the Dragons’ open training sessions in London – not only because they all live in the north of England but also because their sports desks weren’t sufficiently interested.
Everyone points the finger at someone else for this. In England they reckon the Dragons screwed the RFL financially and stayed away from the game’’s heartlands all week. The Dragons say the NRL left them holding the baby. No doubt the NRL would – with justification – blame the other two parties.
Personally I don’t care who’s to blame. I want it fixed. I want it to be the same exciting fixture it was when 54,220 fans saw Wigan beat Brisbane at ANZ Stadium in ‘94
The first thing that has to happen is that the NRL has to make competing in it compulsory. The NRL must negotiate with the RFL over it, not leave it for a club to hold authorities to ransom and demand so much cash up front that the prize money has to be slashed in half.
The next thing that must happen is that the date and venue should be announced WITHIN A WEEK of the respective grand finals being played. Organising this game seems to be no-one’s job!
We should also seriously pursue tenders from neutral cities interested in hosting the WCC – but they should take on the risk associated with not knowing who’s involved. Make them commit before they know who’s in it. It should be in Australia (or New Zealand!) every second year.
But here’s the bottom line: if the World Club Challenge is not compulsory, or if it’s not outside England or if it’s not extended to more teams in 2012, let’s not bother holding it at all. It’s terrible seeing a great idea die such a slow, painful death.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK