Inside RL: Concept is still good despite whitewash – Smith

South Sydney Rabbitohs celebrate after scoring a try against St Helens.
South Sydney Rabbitohs celebrate after scoring a try against St Helens.
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The world Club Series was a good idea a week ago and it still is today.

From a Super League point of view, last weekend’s inaugural tournament didn’t go as hoped, though it possibly panned out the way many people over here expected.

The real difference between the two hemispheres is the player base ... This country simply does not produce enough good young players.

Peter Smith

Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors were both beaten in tight encounters, 18-12 by St George Illawarra and 14-12 against Brisbane Broncos respectively, but Super League champions St Helens suffered an embarrassing 39-0 drubbing at the hands of an outstanding South Sydney Rabbitohs outfit.

All three were poor results for Super League. That’s self-explanatory from the score in the World Club Challenge, but the other two English teams were at home, against Aussie sides who have yet to begin their season and weren’t among the NRL’s top performers last year.

Everything was in the Super League clubs’ favour, but they fell short and most disappointingly, a couple of England’s best sides lost to two of Australia’s average ones.

As mentioned in this column last week, it’s a lose-lose situation for Super League anyway. If English clubs win, supposedly the Aussies aren’t trying or are still in pre-season mode; when the NRL comes out on top it just underlines which is the superior competition.

Much has been made of the fact the NRL has a much higher salary cap, but that is a red herring. The real difference between the two hemispheres is the player base Australian clubs have to pick from. This country simply does not produce enough good young players.

At the moment clubs are effectively recruiting from two or three counties in the north of England, which is a powerful argument in favour of expanding the game and for having a strong club in the capital. If the salary cap was raised, a few better-quality Aussies might come over, but generally – unless the increase was massive – all that would happen is the same players get paid more. That’s good for them and many of them deserve it, but it won’t really raise standards.

Sky TV made much of the World Club Series being there to settle arguments over which is the best league. That debate doesn’t really exist, the NRL is clearly stronger from top to bottom and last weekend’s whitewash proved that. But that’s not to say the concept should be scrapped. Two of the games were hard-fought, close and entertaining and all three attracted healthy amounts of publicity and big crowds.

Rather than axing the idea, which is British rugby league’s stock reaction to anything which isn’t an instant, overwhelming success, it should be persevered with and expanded. Ideally, in future the Australians will enter their top-three teams to take on Super League’s leading trio. The results might not be pretty, at first, but it is a way of raising standards in the game over here, by highlighting what the British game needs to aspire to.

At the moment it seems to be acceptable for British sides just to be competitive when they come up against Australian ones. That was illustrated by the RFL’s response to last year’s Four Nations failure, with the governing body spinning defeat to the worst Kangaroo team in living memory as an example of England making progress.

It’s all right being good losers, but there are no prizes for that. British clubs need to look at the way their Aussie rivals do things and learn from it. Taking a few drubbings along the way will be worth it if they lead to improved standards in the long-term.

Wigan could not be accused of being good losers. Anthony Gelling’s charge down of the penalty kick which, eventually, won Brisbane the game was another example of petulance when things aren’t going their way. See also Matty Smith’s and Joel Tomkins’ reaction to Widnes’ equalising score in Super League round one. That said, there was no need for the game to go to golden point extra-time. Wigan were second-best, but hung in there and deserved a draw after Joe Burgess’ magnificent last-gasp try.

Games in the NRL which finish all square are decided on golden point, but that is an innovation Super League can do without.