THIS COLUMN noted a couple of weeks ago that it was in the players’ hands to lift the gloom surrounding British rugby league.
So it proved last weekend when both Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors beat Australian opposition in the World Club Series, giving the game here the sort of boost it hasn’t enjoyed for years.
Wigan’s victory over Cronulla Sharks means the World Club Challenge trophy is held by an English club for the first time since 2012, when Leeds Rhinos defeated Manly Sea Eagles.
A day earlier, Warrington ended the Aussies’ 100 per cent record in the Dacia World Club Series with a sparkling win over Brisbane Broncos, who are coached by the England boss Wayne Bennett.
Of course, in rugby league every silver lining has a cloud.
Had both English clubs lost it would have been taken as more evidence of Betfred Super League’s inferiority to the NRL and another nail in the coffin of the world club concept.
They both won, so full use has been made of the standard excuses: that it is still the Aussie off-season, Brisbane and Cronulla were only really here for a holiday and the English officials were terrible.
The fact is, both Warrington and Wigan won because they were better on the day.
They have good players – the majority of them home-produced – who can match the NRL’s finest, when they hit their straps and are fully motivated to prove they are better than second rate.
Kevin Brown’s performance on debut for Warrington was top-class and he may have played himself to the front of the queue for half-back spots in England’s World Cup squad.
But even more encouraging was the form of his young partner in the pivots Declan Patton, who is emerging as a very exciting prospect, both for Warrington and the national team.
Andre Savelio also had a big game and, unless Super League can find a way of hanging on to its best players, they – and others on show last weekend – will soon be attracting the attention of NRL scouts.
Not that life in Australia always works out.
Wigan’s victory was built on a hat-trick by winger Joe Burgess, who has returned to the Pie Dome after an unhappy spell in the NRL last year.
The NRL hasn’t been hugely interested in the World Club concept since it was expanded from one to three games, hence its reduction to two this year.
Brisbane stepped in to face Warrington after other Aussie clubs declined to travel. The 2017 results will at least have given club bosses Down Under something to think about and perhaps have addressed some of the damaging comments recently made about the competition here.
Super League takes the concept much more seriously and clears a space for it in an already packed fixture list.
That makes for a stop-start opening to the season, with half of the 12 clubs having a weekend off after their opening game, but does focus attention on the big matches.
It’s a shame the same does not apply to the lower divisions.
There was a full round of fixture in the Kingstone Press Championship last Sunday and League One’s cup competition got under way.
A 3pm kick-off at Wigan meant the World Club Challenge was competing with domestic matches, a conflict which could have been avoided by a later kick-off.
Does the triumph in the World Club Series mean all problems in Super League and the British game have been solved?
Of course not, but it is good to have something to smile about and, in a World Cup year, last season’s Grand Finalists have proved the Aussies are only human.
The Super League double has revived what was an ailing concept and the amount of publicity generated highlighted how important international competition is to rugby league in this country.
Rugby league here is always struggling for respect and credibility, internally as well as from the outside.
At the moment it has got that.
If wins for two clubs sides can produce such a feel-good factor, just imagine what a World Cup triumph would do.