This past weekend saw the first ever Rugby League World Club Series. This is an expansion on the World Club Challenge which took place in previous years. The new series pits the top 3 teams from the Super League and the NRL against each other in 3 games. So, how successful was this new idea? And can it have success in the future?
The Series began on Friday night with Warrington Wolves taking on St George Illawarra Dragons in a 3rd vs 3rd clash. The game was extremely close throughout with both sides scoring 2 tries apiece before half time. The game’s controversial moment came around the half hour mark as Eto Nubali delivered a sickening high shot on Warrington winger, Kevin Penny. Week on week in Super League we see these kind of challenges met with at least a yellow card and often even a red. It is inexplicable as to how Ben Thaler and his touch judges deemed that no card should be shown. This could have been a real turning point and in my opinion would have led to a Warrington victory but alas it wasn’t to be. The Dragons controlled the second half a little better, using their excellent kicking game to pin the Wolves back. A single second half try from Man of the Match, Josh Dugan was enough to see them over the line but how different it could have been for Warrington if Thaler had chosen to card Nubali.
Warrington Wolves 12-18 St George Illawarra Dragons
The second game of the weekend was a thrilling match between Wigan Warriors and Brisbane Broncos. Again a feature of this match was some ill-discipline from both sides, with numerous penalties and scuffles featuring throughout. Wigan gifted Brisbane a try early on as Sydney Roosters bound, Joe Burgess, lost the ball under his own posts allowing Andrew McCullough in for an easy score. After that, both teams showed some flashes of quality on what was a rapidly deteriorating pitch at the DW Stadium. But it looked like Wigan would come up short as they trailed by 6 points with just 2 minutes left. But, Burgess had other ideas, making up for his earlier error by scoring an incredible 80 metre try to send the game into Golden Point Extra Time. The night ended disappointingly as both teams were visibly exhausted and struggling on the boggy pitch. A harsh penalty against Joel Tomkins in front of the posts ended the game as Corey Parker kicked the goal to hand Brisbane the win.
Wigan Warriors 12-14 Brisbane Broncos
After two close games, in which the Super League teams took their more illustrious NRL opponents all the way, hopes were high that St Helens could trouble South Sydney in the World Club Challenge. However it was apparent early on that this wouldn’t be the case. The Rabbitohs were simply too good for Saints who struggled to deal with South’s impressive kicking game throughout the contest. English twin props George and Tom Burgess consistently battered holes into the St Helens line, creating space for half back Adam Reynolds to wreak havoc with both his hands and feet as the Rabbitohs won by a record margin of 39 points.
St Helens 0-39 South Sydney Rabbitohs
So, when all was said and done, the NRL had won all 3 games to whitewash the English. However this shouldn’t detract from a hugely successful re-boot of the World Club Challenge. Each game saw near capacity crowds and, aside from the disappointing Final, very competitive matches. The only problem going forward is still the fact that the NRL treats this as a pre-season tournament due to its scheduling before their season begins. It’s difficult to maintain credibility for the “Super League vs NRL” narrative as long as this is the case. The Aussies have a ready made excuse for if and when they fail. Hopefully this can be rectified in the coming years and hopefully the powers that be decide to move forward with this 6 team format which gave us a mesmerising weekend of Rugby League.