It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that there’s a hint of pessimism in the air for Super League fans ahead of this weekend’s World Club Series.
The fact that St Helens and Leeds were both hammered by sides who failed to make the top eight in the league last year in their final matches before the World Club Series hints at yet another dismal series for the league against their NRL counterparts.
This time 12 months ago, despite three impressive showpieces, Super League was routinely humbled by the NRL, losing all three games including an absolute hammering for St Helens in the World Club Challenge itself.
And all of this begs the question – what happens to the integrity and the future of the series if it’s another NRL whitewash?
It’s a realistic proposition given the class of the three NRL sides and the stuttering form of the Super League sides in anticipation of the World Club Series, so it’s one that needs to be considered carefully.
The series will hardly retain its clamour and lure for 2017 if the aggregate score across the two editions of the series is 6-0, so would another whitewash prompt a rethink from the RFL in regards to how the World Club Series is run?
That might be readjusting the format of the series, or even being bold and increasing the number of teams involved to try and score some wins against the NRL.
However, the smartest option for the RFL might be to revert back to handpicking sides to take part (with the exception of the Super League champions, of course) to give Super League the best chance possible of succeeding against the best the NRL has to offer.
Of course, so long as there’s a significant financial gulf between the two leagues, the possibility of a whitewash in the World Club Series each and every year remains a worrying possibility.
There are ambitions to take the World Club Series to Australia in the future too – but how on Earth can we market it as a competitive and enthralling competition for Australian audiences if Super League teams can’t even win a game on home soil?
The opening two games of the series have been dubbed by cynics as nothing more than friendlies or trial games, with them both warm-up acts for the big game on Sunday, the World Club Challenge.
But this year, Super League has some big questions to ask and a big reputation to defend. If it’s 3-0 to the NRL boys again, then the World Club Series could face a trickier future than some may have hoped from year two.
Here’s hoping Super League scores enough victories to win the series – but if not, then the competition can hopefully at least manage one scalp.