Friday Flashback: 1997 World Club Challenge

For this week’s Friday Flashback, we’re taking you all the way back to 1997 – and one of the most infamous editions of the World Club Challenge. With talk the competition may be expanded to include three Super League and three NRL teams next year, we’re using today’s Friday Flashback to look back at the last time the tournament featured more than two teams.

Unfortunately for Rugby League, the 1997 World Club Challenge was a complete disaster, with poor attendances and viewing figures – coupled with the tournament reportedly posting a loss of $5,000,000 – leading to the event being postponed for a number of years. The tournament itself was held across two hemispheres, with teams having to often travel to the other side of the world just to play a group game. That led to plenty of costs, and plenty of heavy defeats along the way. Unfortunately for Super League clubs, it was they who took most of the beatings, with no British side advancing any further than the quarter-finals.

The structuring of the tournament was so bad that, of the eight teams who qualified from the four pools, Bradford Bulls actually qualified for the quarters despite losing ALL of their six pool games! The four Australian teams that qualified won all six of their pool games, illustrating just how dominant the Australians were. After a dismal showing from Super League sides, the four who made it to the last eight (Bradford, St Helens, Wigan and London) were all thumped in the quarters – with the exception of Wigan, who only just went down 22-18 to Hunter Mariners.

The Mariners themselves were perhaps the real story of what was a poor tournament. Their short lifespan had plenty of stories, and plenty of great players – including the likes of Kevin Iro, Brett Kimmorley and even future Leeds star Willie Poching. They were coached by Graham Murray, and were a real revelation for Australian Rugby League.

Attendances were one of the main talking points after the tournament, and they certainly didn’t stack up too healthily. All the quarters and semi-finals failed to achieve gates in excess of 10,000, with the final itself between Brisbane and Hunter Mariners only drawing in 12,000 people. The Mariners’ fairytale would be ended in the final, as they were crushed by the all-star Broncos 36-12, who were crowned world champions.

As for Super League, the RFL were at a loss as to how their sides did so poorly in the tournament, and immediately launched an investigation into the poor showing, with Joe Lydon heading up a commission. The tournament itself was abandoned until 2000, when it was relaunched as a two-team event, the format we currently operate under.

Fan Memories
@Knowsleyrude on Twitter says: “The pitch at Knowsley Road was immaculate and the first time I’d seen logos painted on it…. the rugby was shocking!”
@71Digiboy on Twitter remembers a great of the game, saying his favourite memory was: “Seeing mat rogers at odsal kicking goals from anywhere on the park! #fridayflashback

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