NRL and Super League clubs have agreed to play next year’s World Club Challenge in Australia and expand the competition to six teams in 2015.
As his Rhinos prepare to take on Melbourne next Friday, Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington said he hoped the agreement – nutted out by a working group involving franchises from both competitions – would be formalised shortly.
Next February’s clash between the Super League and NRL premiers would be the first WCC decider played in Australia since 1994.
“That’s where we’ve got to and we would hope it would move a step further and become formalised,” Hetherington told The Herald.
“It’s all meant to integrate with the international calendar. If there’s an international tournament in one hemisphere, then the World Club Challenge will be in the other.”
Expanding the competition to six teams in 2015 – in the UK –will make it 18 years for the concept to have recovered from the disastrously lopsided 1997 competition.
Explaining the structure, Hetherington said: “There’ll be one versus one – that’s to decide the world champions. But in alternate years –and maybe going to every year ultimately – it will be the World Club plus and NRL v Super League series.
“And that would include two v two and three v three.
“Ideally, it would be Friday, Saturday and Sunday and there would be no Super League games that weekend.”
He said a schedule for five to six seasons had been agreed upon, flip-flopping between hemispheres and between two- and six-team formats.
While Hetherington has been pushing for an expanded WCC for some years, it’s understood that this time the Australasian clubs are on the same page. Other members of the WCC working group included St George Illawarra’s Peter Doust, Wigan’s Ian Lenagan and South Sydney’s Shane Richardson.
“There is no guarantee next year’s game will be in Sydney –like the All Stars game, it could go up for tender and end up a new market like Perth,” Hetherington said.
“Down the track, we see this becoming a valuable TV commodity and hopefully a vehicle for promoting rugby league in new markets, such as Dubai or Hong Kong.”
The expansion is likely to be welcomed by players. “I’ve played in a few of these,” said Melbourne utility Brett Finch, “and they probably don’t get the recognition they deserve.
“From a player’s point of view, it’s a big game.”
After a disrupted start to their stay in England when a bus driver slept in and they had to take a fleet of cabs to their Richmond Hotel, Melbourne’s preparations for the Headingley showpiece kicked off in earnest late last night when they were due to train at the exclusive Eton school.
Utility Finch has just returned from a stint with Wigan but says coach Craig Bellamy is so hard working that he is unlikely to be asked to help with tactics.
“How much work Craig does … I’m sure he’s got video on them,” said Finch. “Obviously I’ve played them a few times and know how good they are.
“If he asks my advice I’ll be happy to give it but you know how hard he works and prepares. He’s probably got as much knowledge as I do.”
Finch is expected to fill in at hooker off the bench.
“With a lot of the first graders missing for the trials, I’ve played in the halves,” he said. “But those guys are back for this game so I’m not sure what (Bellamy) has got planned.”
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD