By STEVE MASCORD
OK, the NRL schedule is already so full that we didn’t even have a room for the All Stars game this season.
But according to former Northern Eagles, Manly and Sydney Roosters utility back Luke Dorn, what it really needs is not more games, but more occasions.
Standing in the players’ race at Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening, Dorn reckoned he knew exactly what sort of occasion was lacking.
“I was talking to Grant Millington today, saying the whole atmosphere and carnival structure of the week, even the day, I don’t know if it’s comparable to anything we have back in Aussie,” the 32-year-old tells League Week after playing in Castleford’s 23-10 Challenge Cup final loss to Leeds.
“It’s a knock-out competition and it’s always been one so everyone who has ever supported rugby league has an affinity with it.
“It’s their competition because the grand final’s only so many years old. The noise is incredible. There’s people not just from Cas’ and Leeds. They buy their tickets at the start of the year and come down and make a week of it.
“It’s unbelievable. If Australia could do something like that, it’d be great.”
As we said, on first glance it seems a ludicrous idea given the crowded fixture list in the southern hemisphere. But the pre-season is currently meaningless and there are moves to play Origin games on weekends.
Is a knock-out competition, involving teams outside the NRL, really so crazy when these teams often provide trial-match opposition anyway? Three weeks of games in the pre-season, and three more at Origin time?
Dorn says: “It would have to be exactly the same structure. You’re talking about developing the game in new areas … NSW Cup or Queensland Cup teams would be a chance of playing against the big boys.
“You’re not always going to win but there’s financial gain as well. It’s a great concept. The Challenge Cup have got it spot on. You get on the bigger stage before the end of the year and there’s two competitions up for grabs.
“I’m really disappointed we didn’t win but the day is something we’ll cherish for a long time.”
Leeds had lost six consecutive Challenge Cup finals going into a match which they were favourites to win against a newly-emerging Tigers team.
The Rhinos should have led by more than their 16-4 advantage at halftime but when Oliver Holmes scored off Michael Shenton’s break just after the break, Leeds fans began to feel sick.
In the end, Lance Todd trophy winner Ryan Hall was just too big and strong to stop. For the first of his two tries, he treated the defence like roadkill.
“If I needed to score those tries for us to win, I needed to do that today,” said the man whose tag as the world’s best winger is no joke.
“The hardest thing is to do it first. There’s been a few things in sporting history where a team is the first to do something and then the floodgates open so hopefully we can open the floodgates with continued success.
“It’s loud out there. If you’re not used to it, it will set you back a bit. I’m glad to be part of a group that has been here before and striving for success and finally we’ve done it.”
Leeds last won at Wembley in 1999 under the late Graham Murray.
“The message today is that it’s persistence personified with this group of people – and trust,” said forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan,
“If there’s one word you have to use, it’s trust – trust in team-mates, trust in what you believe and trust in your coach.”
The Challenge Cup could take on extra significance with plans to expand the World Club Challenge. One proposal would see the winners automatically included as one of the three northern hemisphere clubs involved,
But coach Brian McDermott does not think Saturday’s win put Leeds into next year’s tournament.
“I’m not sure – I don’t think so,” said McDermott. “I think it’s to do with the winners and losers of the grand final and those who are league leaders as well.”
If the Rhinos do take on the NRL’s best, hooker Paul Aiton insists he’ll be there. He has two years left on his contract and says he’s heard nothing from ASADA despite claims he’s been targeted by a show-cause notice.
Like Dorn, he was overwhelmed by the occasion to such an extent that the drama seemed a sideshow.
“When I was 17 I was in finals but since I went down to Sydney, I was involved in good teams but just never made it, whether I just missed out or came last. But now I’m part of this team, it’s a great group of blokes an I have the chance to play in these games.
“I’ve never been involved with something like that in my career. It’s still all a bit surreal, you’re going ‘did that just happen?’.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK