Plans to bring the World Club Challenge, the premier club competition in rugby league, to Abu Dhabi look to have been shelved.
Showpiece match to remain in England
Plans to bring the World Club Challenge, the premier club competition in rugby league, to Abu Dhabi look to have been shelved. The one-off match event, between the winners of the English Super League and the National Rugby League (NRL), was held in England for the 10th successive year on Sunday, with the Manly Sea Eagles becoming the first Australian winners for six years when they beat Leeds Rhinos 28-20 in front of a bumper 32,569 crowd at Elland Road, Leeds.
There have been calls for the annual global clash to be staged at a neutral venue, including Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong, while Gary Hetherington, the Leeds chief executive, has put forward proposals to expand the competition. However, the competition looks set to remain a one-off match held in the United Kingdom for the foreseeable future. The Sea Eagles have given lukewarm backing to Hetherington's plan for the top three clubs from both Super League and Australia's NRL to contest the event and the Rugby Football League will consider that during their debrief.
But the situation is complicated by television deals which are in place for the next three years and the League may be reluctant to tamper with what has become a successful one-off event. "It's appropriate to have a discussion about what may or may not be possible," said Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood. "There are issues about the over-playing of players which we need to bear in mind.
"Sunday was a terrific and outstanding success. International football delivers a profile that domestic football doesn't and we have got to weigh up the balance. "All things are possible. The Middle East or Far East are options but as yet no-one has come to the table with a package that would enable us to take the proposal to the next level. "There is every likelihood the event will look the same next year."
Manly's successful coach Des Hasler, who played for the Sea Eagles in the first challenge against Wigan in 1987, has cast doubt over the viability of Australia hosting the event. "We'd love to defend it in Sydney and I'm sure Leeds would like to come to Australia but, as a concept, I'm just not sure how it would go down there during our off season," he said. Meanwhile, Hull's Australian Todd Byrne will not play again this season after being told he needs a knee reconstruction.
The 30-year-old damaged his anterior cruciate ligament in his side's 28-20 victory over Celtic Crusaders in Bridgend 11 days ago. The surgery, which will keep Byrne out for between six and eight months, could even spell the end of his career. His two-year contract is up at the end of the season and it is thought he may be released. Salford will be without centre Willie Talau for up to a month after X-rays revealed he sustained a depressed fracture of his cheekbone during the Reds' 52-16 loss at Castleford last Saturday.
The former St Helens threequarter picked up the injury following a clash of heads but played on until 20 minutes from the end. * PA