Is there a plan, or are we just making things up as we go along?
That was my initial reaction to the surprising news that not only had the Super League fixtures for 2018 been released early, but that expansion to Sydney, of all places, was now on the agenda.
Closer inspection of the news revealed that only one fixture had been released, Wigan having arranged to play Hull FC in Wollongong on 10th February, and it appeared to be a matter of the clubs doing their own thing with retrospective endorsement by Super League, rather than there being any actual overriding logic to it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve long been an advocate for taking Super League games on the road as a means of expanding the game. The roads I had in mind were those in the United Kingdom, leading to places where smaller Rugby League clubs already exist that could do with a boost in profile. Or perhaps, if we’re going to be more adventurous than that, as far as Ireland or southern Europe where there might be some conceivable benefit to the Super League competition in the longer term. Even Toronto would make sense, although they seem to be getting on quite well as it is, testing the crowd-pulling appeal of Super League clubs out there would be interesting to say the least.
But Sydney? Excuse me if I am mistaken, but aren’t we constantly being told that Sydney is already the centre of the Rugby League universe? The home of several NRL clubs, capital of one of the behemoths of State of Origin, host city of the upcoming World Cup and therefore rather well catered for already in terms of Rugby League?
What’s the point of playing a Super League fixture there? I just don’t get it and I don’t understand why Super League has rubber-stamped it, when if the clubs are suddenly in the mood to forfeit home advantage and travel, there are places in this country that an on-the-road fixture could have so much more direct benefit to the British game.
Not only that, but the timing of it throws a rather large curveball into plans for the launch of the British domestic season, which we usually allow to be disrupted by the World Club Series anyway because Australian clubs show no interest in ever playing those games down under.
At times it seems as if we have no respect for our own premier domestic competition, so why should anyone else?
Wigan will play South Sydney Rabbitohs and Hull FC will play St George Illawarra Dragons the week after the Sydney Super League fixture in a double-header. Why? Answers on a postcard, please.
Assuming the World Club Series even takes place next year (after two British wins this season don’t hold your breath) how much more baffling does its status become when British clubs are out in Australia playing random fixtures against other Australian clubs for no apparent reason?
If British and Australian clubs have the appetite to play each other, and now view it as a financially lucrative exercise rather than an unwanted obligation, it should be formally structured within a meaningful competition – and with the World Club Series we’re led to believe we already have one of those – not just tossed into the mix as and when individual clubs feel like making their own arrangements with everyone else just to be expected to work around them.
Also, right now the whole sport should be focused on encouraging as many supporters to make the trip to Australia and New Zealand to support the World Cup, not making them think twice and skip the World Cup to watch their own club out there a few months later instead.
There are times, and this is one of them, that I feel like throwing my arms up in despair when Rugby League presents itself as a giant uncoordinated mess, where ‘stuff happens’ but logic has taken a holiday.