Monday Morning Halfback: So, farewell then World Club Challenge … Mind the Gap.

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ProbizWCClogo-tm.jpgIn which I share my Word Club Challenge fantasy …

Sunday’s Probiz World Club Challenge produced an enthralling contest; one worthy of a more prominent place not only in the rugby league calendar, but also in the global sporting calendar. St George Illawarra Dragons emerged as World Champions after a gruelling game that took its physical toll on both squads, with repercussions that will ripple through their respective league campaigns.

The closeness of the scoreline and the intensity of the atmosphere fanned the desire and effort of both teams. Despite the error rate – borne more of the time of the season than anything else – the skill and speed of foot and thought, the force of the collision, was awesome. Both sides deserve credit.

Yet, despite the appeal of the game and the quality of the product (from a TV perspective) does this competition have a future?

It should. Indeed it must, if rugby league is to have any credible global future. Let’s face it RL’s international scene at the top-level is moribund if not actually dead. Stirring interest in the Four-Nations is akin to nailing Polly to the perch (Under-30s see – Monty Python).

But at club level, with free passage between the competing nations, we have the opportunity to create a competitive and exciting globe-spanning competition. A competition with international TV appeal that would fill coffers and lift the profile of the game to new heights.

What we need now are men of vision and substance to grasp the opportunity and turn it into reality. A week long three game event to determine the Global Champions of Rugby.

The respective Grand Finals will rightly remain the highlight of the domestic season, with the winners proclaimed the Champions. But a fortnight later they will play the losing finalists from the opposite hemisphere to qualify for the right to become world champions. The following weekend will see a global final determing the world champions.

That event could be held anywhere in the world. A double header one weekend; the final the next. Throw in some reality TV coverage of the teams involved a’la rugby league raw and you have TV gold; in any market.

How could that not raise the game’s profile world wide? Imagine showcasing the sport in New York or Hong Kong.

But until the RFL and NRL stop fannying around in a half-hearted fashion with this fantastic world club concept the game will always seem diminished.

In my experience marketing is about knowing your product’s strengths and weaknesses; about seeking a differentiator between it and the competition. Well rugby league is deep and strong and passionate at club level in a way that union will never be. Sell that. Sell 14-tribes. Sell the sizzle.

In which I lament the international scene …

England coach, Steve McNamara, is to name his Elite England training squad today and if I could type a ‘gallic-shrug‘ then I would. Because … (insert gallic-shrug here) … does it matter? Isn’t this just another dead-end road?

You can’t instil mental toughness and instinctive rugby-nous-based decision-making through a training drill. You can’t use ‘witches hats’ to make amends for formative years spent trampling kids smaller and (frankly) less interested than you in BARLA U14s routs.

And I know that the club academies churn out talent year-on-year. The committed make it through, somehow. But always they’re a little less than they might have been; than they might have been had their peers been just as good, forcing them to be even better, raising the bar.

More than that you can’t recruit a 24-man squad of international class rugby league players from the populations of Yorkshire and Lancashire (under-30s see here for those terms); you can only nail Polly to the perch for so long.

That is why the long-term future of London rugby has to be assured by the rugby league, despite disappointing attendances at he Quins. The number of schools and colleges participating in the game in and around London is already producing a trickle of international level talent. We have to continue to crank that up; in the South, the Midlands and the North East.

Maybe it’s possible to build English rugby league to a competitive level again, maybe not. But if it is, I’m willing to bet that the source of that resurgence lies deeper than a bit of team-bonding clambering through Royal Marine assault courses. It lies in the medal-for-all culture that pervades youth sport. In the attitudes to sport and recreation that are instilled at school and at home. At parents so busy working-for-a-living that at home the easy-option is often the only option.

Turning all that around is a decades long job and we haven’t even started it yet.

In which I earn the ire of Widnesians …

I was harangued last week by mates from Widnes baying at the 1700 attendance in London and calling for a Super League franchise to be handed to them instead.

All I can do is repeat myself; slowly.

It’s not about bodies in the stand, this London team, it’s about people playing the game. About building up a nationwide talent pool. About developing interest for generations to come. About sowing seeds. Setting in place the family traditions and foundations that saw rugby league establish itself in Lancashire and Yorkshire decades ago.

Putting Widnes (or Leigh) in Super League instead of London or Catalan or … yes, Wrexham (technically it IS Wales) does NOTHING for the game of rugby league; z.e.r.o. except serve the short term cash flows of clubs. If either team get there instead of Salford or Wigan or Warrington or St.Helens; good for them; but to deny the need for geographic extension in the sport is short-sighsighted in Iraqi Information Minister – “We have them surrounded in their tanks” proportions.

In which I bid good day.

Cheers. This blog is more popular than I’d imagined. I hope you enjoyed your visit. If you disgree — I’m on twitter tweeps so let me know.

The sight of empty terraces at Wrexham Saturday hardly filled me with cheer.