“DO we have to play it in England?”
Jamie Lyon has just won a grand final. Normally after such events, the World Club Challenge is the last thing on the minds of Australian players.
But reporter Hamish Neal – a committed internationalist – has raised the issue towards the tail end of the media conference that follows Manly’s 24-10 win over the Warriors at ANZ Stadium. To Hamish, like the rest of us, it’s a good story that Lyon could be facing up to St Helens – where he is still loved.
“I have a lot of friends there,” the Manly captain answers, “some of whom are still playing.”
Des Hasler lookers perplexed. “They’re talking about the World Club Challenge,” he says to the media pack. “Yes, it has to be in England.”
But according to Sea Eagles owner Scott Penn, it doesn’t. Since the fixture was revived in 2000, it made economic sense to stage the pre-season showpiece in the northern hemisphere. However, current exchange rates mean those days are over, according to Penn.
“The fact is that over there, we’d play in front of 25,000, 30,000 (people),” Penn tells Forty20. “If we play it here, we get 80,000, it’s a massive difference. The prizemoney is terrible. That’s got to change. The prizemoney for this (premiership) as well. The prizemoney for all of rugby league, considering how hard you have to work to get there, has got to chance. And I’m sure it will as more money comes in.
“I think it would terrific if we could play it here. We’d get three times the crowd, hopefully three times the money. Surely that’s in everyone’s interests.”
The advantages Manly have over St George Illawarra when it comes to manouvreability is that they don’t have big ticket pre-season games like the Charity Shield (against South Sydney) and Mercury Challenge (against Canterbury) to consider.
The Sea Eagles will lose A$1 million this year despite winning the premiership. If they can make some money out of having the World Club Challenge in Sydney , they’d probably play in January if necessary. This could even be the year that Gary Hetherington’s expanded WCC involving four teams finally happens.
Warrington will be in Oz for a training camp anyway.
If it is in England, Rugby Football League types should be shaking in their boots. The new Sea Eagles CEO is David Perry, who was part of the St George Illawarra administration that took everything that wasn’t screwed down when it negotiated hard for this year’s WCC.
So what of the NRL grand final? There were more than a few parallels with events a month earlier at Wembley.
The red hot favourites taking a big lead on the biggest stage and almost being run down. The vanquished men having justification for taking almost as much confidence out of the 80 minutes as the winners. And the victorious fullback taking some of the attention away from the occasion by upsetting officialdom with a very public gesture.
NRL grand finalists the Warriors, like Challenge Cup finalists Leeds, were staring down the barrel of a heavy defeat at long stages of the 2011 decider against Manly. It was 18-2 after 57 minutes and up until then, the second-finishing Sea Eagles had pretty much always looked likely to skip away.
But, just as Leeds had at Wembley, the Aucklanders showed they were made of sterner – and more dazzling – stuff. Whiz kid Shaun Johnson shone, Manu Vatuvei plus Elijah Taylor scored consecutive tries and – had James Maloney been able to convert both – it would have been only four the difference.
Sadly for the Warriors, they won’t get to make the most of the experience they gained as quickly as Leeds did.
The fallout has been uniquely Australian. Rugby league there runs on feuds and agendas but this marks the first time one has spilled over onto the winners’ dais at the grand final!
Manly brothers Glenn and Brett Stewart have not spoken to NRL chief executive David Gallop since fullback Brett was suspended in 2009 after a boozy afternoon which finished in him being charged with sexual assault.
The charge was defeated by the NRL suspended Stewart for four weeks in the meantime. Much of the build-up to the grand final involved prognostications on how, exactly, the Stewarts would treat Gallop when they encountered him on the podium at fulltime.
Bizarrely, they each went out of their way to engage Gallop in conversation. It subsequently emerged that Brett’s conversation had not been entirely polite, that he told the CEO “You still owe me an apology”.
Coach Des Hasler, who will stay at the club next year despite reports linking him with the Bulldogs, said Brett had experienced “closure” on the first Sunday of October. If the account of his conversation is correct, however, it sounds more like he thought of the triumph as vindication.
Note: since this story appeared, Hasler has linked with Canterbury for 2012. The WCC has been confirmed for Headingley.
Filed for: FORTY-20 MAGAZINE