Coaches back expansion plans

  • Last Updated: February 17 2013, 13:15 GMT

Representatives of the international game will be asked on Monday to press ahead with plans to expand the World Club Challenge and stage it in Australia.

Shaun Wane: Backs World Club Challenge plans

Clubs from both the NRL and Super League have agreed in principle to the proposals and the International Federation are expected to ratify them at a meeting in Leeds.

The annual challenge match will be held in England for the 13th consecutive year when Melbourne Storm and Leeds meet at Headingley on Friday night but next year it is set to be held down under while in 2015 it could be enlarged to take in six teams.

The idea has been mooted for several years but, under Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, it appears to be gathering momentum.

"It's all meant to integrate with the international calendar," Hetherington said. "If there's an international tournament in one hemisphere, then the World Club Challenge will be in the other.

"Down the track, we see this becoming a valuable TV commodity and hopefully a vehicle for promoting rugby league in new markets, such as Dubai or Hong Kong."

Australia last hosted the challenge in 1994 when Wigan beat Brisbane at Lang Park and current Warriors coach Shaun Wane, who played in the 1987 clash with Manly at Central Park, would relish the chance to take his team down under.

"I'd love to take my team over there and play them in their own backyard but so would everybody else," Wane said. "It gives you a bit more incentive towards the end of the year."

Warrington coach Tony Smith, who guided Leeds to victory over Canterbury Bulldogs in 2005, echoed Wane's sentiment.

"I've always said it would be great to do it on their side," he said. "It's certainly an advantage to be on home soil.

"I think the ultimate is to go to the other country and defeat them on their own turf. It would be much tougher to do but it would be much more satisfying.

"It would be nice to even be in that position. I only had the chance to do it once with Leeds."

Expanding the competition to six teams in 2015 would make it 18 years for the concept to have recovered from the disastrously lopsided 1997 competition.

The timing of the competition may still be an issue, with the NRL starting a month after Super League, and Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy would like to see it revert to a season-ending slot.

"I don't know what would be the ideal timing, probably two weeks after the Grand Final," he said. "The Grand Finals are basically on the same weekend now.

"There's obviously reasons why it's at this time of year but for us it's quite disruptive.

"There's the long travel and different conditions and it probably takes out two weeks of our pre-season training.

"It's not ideal but we're here, we've brought our best squad available and we're going to give it a good shot."

After spending four days in London, Melbourne moved up to their Leeds base this weekend and several players, including former Wigan duo Brett Finch and Ryan Hoffman, took in yesterday's Super League game between Huddersfield and the Warriors.

Bellamy will put his squad through an opposed training session with Halifax on Tuesday, which will take Storm's England international Gareth Widdop back to his roots.

"It's really exciting," Widdop said. "It won't feel real until I get there.

"It's where I grew up, where my league started as a kid, and to go back there and have a training session at the Shay will be a thrill.

"Hopefully my friends and family will be able to come down and watch. It will be good to be going back to where it all started."


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