A Super League versus NRL ‘Champions League’ sounds nice, but it’s impossible to pull off
18 May 2019 - Written by Zack Wilson
London Broncos owner David Hughes recently stated that he wants to see a repeat of 1997, when Super League clubs played against their NRL counterparts in an expanded version of the World Club Challenge.
Hughes sees such a competition as the ideal way to raise the standards of Super League, and allow the European competition to re
“For us to catch up with the Australian standard it’s essential, otherwise we’ll get lost and left behind,” he said, according to The Sun.
“To do that, you’ve got to have the airlines entering into it and negating the cost for us to facilitate it.
“If it’s PR and it’s presented well. We show the shirt and the badge, we fly to Australia to take them on, absolutely they could get involved.
“You’ve got to have a bit of imagination in life. This game is stagnant and we have to grow with the Australians.
“For sure, one-sided results will happen but there’s a willingness down there to grow – you can’t just have Australia and New Zealand.
“It has to be successful in England and Great Britain, the Aussies have to put in. In terms of growth and catching up, it’s essential.
“The only way to get us up to that level is to play them and mingle with them. If it’s a cost factor, it’s up to us as Super League and the NRL to make it happen.”
It’s certainly an interesting idea but, as with anything in rugby league, there are serious obstacles to such a concept ever coming to fruition.
A major problem would be the logistics of the competition. Given the distance between Australia and Europe, it would be almost impossible for rugby league to stage the competition like soccer’s Champions League.
That competition unwinds over the course of a full season, with teams travelling weekly across the continent during the periods when the competition is on.
The expense of that would just be unmanageable for rugby league clubs, especially those in Super League.
The structure of the competition would also need work. Would it be a 16-team comp with eight teams from Super League and eight from the NRL?
Would it be straight knock-out, like the Challenge Cup, or a tournament with a group stage and knock out rounds, like the Champions League or the World Cup? Or something else entirely?
The teams who participate would also need some work.
If it’s a genuine ‘world’ competition then there has to be an argument that the PNG Hunters, Catalans Dragons and New Zealand Warriors should be included too.
The geographical spread of such a competition would be huge. It would need to be played in a block in a short period, which would then take time out of the domestic season, causing more issues for clubs.
But the biggest obstacle to establishing such an ambitious competition is the low profile of the NRL itself outside of its home region.
In order for an international club competition to be successful, it would need to be sold to European broadcasters, and probably North American ones too.
The issue with selling it to them is that outside of traditional rugby league areas like parts of the North of England and parts of the South of France, no one has really heard of the NRL.
You can walk into a pub in Wakefield in West Yorkshire and mention the NRL, and nine out of 10 people, at least, would know what you were talking about.
If you walked into a pub in Sheffield, in South Yorkshire, less than 20 miles away, that ratio would almost be reversed.
Further away from the heartlands, the number of people for whom the letters NRL mean anything grows much less.
Which makes it much harder to sell a competition for which the NRL teams would be the main selling point.
There would almost have to be an NRL PR campaign in Europe years in advance to make it work, anf that isn’t going to happen.
The NRL tends to see itself as ‘Rugby League’ with little thought or attention paid to Europe, apart from scouting players from Super League.
There just would not be the will to drive the massive PR push that would be needed to break through in a continent where soccer and rugby union are such massive players.
How many people Down Under would really buy into the concept remains a moot point too.
Sadly, the combination of economics, geography and marketing from a position of real relative weakness would mean that the concept is simply a non-starter, at least right now.