Why is there so much infighting in Rugby League?
09 May 2019 - Written by Callum Walker
Team rivalries will always be there in any sport and both Super League and Australia’s equivalent, the NRL, have their fair share of bitter ones. What no one discusses is the rivalry between Super League and their NRL counterparts. Rather than being in competition with the other code or other sports, the two competitions are seemingly battling against each other.
There’s always been a simmering hostility between Super League and the NRL and this has been increasingly evident in recent years. The NRL’s reluctance to allow players travel to Denver’s Mile High Stadium to play against England in 2018 and their declaration that they will block players from doing so in 2019 hit a sore spot with England head coach Wayne Bennett and Rugby League fans up and down the British Isles.
The yearly discussions over the World Club Challenge have further clouded opinion of fans in what should, in essence, be the most prestigious team award in world rugby league. The competition has descended into a “who cares less” award for NRL fans and has generated a great deal of apathy, particularly in the southern hemisphere.
Whilst NRL supporters attribute the clash as little more than a pre-season friendly, Super League spectators are always eager to see how the champions of the European competition go against the lauded premiers from Down Under.
From the ill-fated, expanded 1997 edition, in which British clubs performed disastrously amid millions of dollars’ worth of losses, to the short-lived World Club Series of recent seasons, the format has never been perfected.
The competition has never really taken off and this is largely down to the claimed discrepancy between the sport’s two elite competitions – Super League and the NRL -especially amongst NRL fans whom see Super League as their lesser neighbours. Rather than working together to ensure the fixture is one of the most celebrated in sport, Super League and the NRL are at loggerheads.
And, this lack of harmony has transcended down to the grassroots. Super League supporters see a recruit from Down Under getting into their late 20s as “coming for one last pay cheque”. Meanwhile, NRL fans look at Super League imports as aliens coming to invade their precious competition.
'Poms' get a lot of stick and only the most talented and thick-skinned such as James Graham, Sam Burgess and Adrian Morley are able to withstand this onslaught as well as the rigours of a much more structured game.
It seems that in this day and age when the ever-expanding popularity of other sports should yield a much more united front, Super League and NRL are the most divided they have ever been, right from the hierarchy down to the fans.