To expect Wigan to fly out from the UK after just one Super League game, to arrive in Auckland for a match against a squad of New Zealand Warriors players, and then to be competitive against the Sydney Roosters is asking for a miracle.
I feel very sorry for Wigan and the ridiculous schedule they will have to meet over the next few weeks. During an important part of their season they have to pack up and head down under to play was is essentially two trial matches against NRL clubs.
The trip across the world is bad enough, but the effect of the round trip on the club over the next couple of months, and even later on during the Super League season, will be immense. It is actually one of the major reasons I do not believe Wigan will win any silverware this year.
Wigan, like a number of Super League clubs, is in a transitional phase right now. With NRL clubs now scouting English talent, the Super League salary cap set at a low level, club facing financial crisis across the competition and the general strength of talent across Super League falling, Wigan are at a point where they can rebuild on the run, but they can’t afford any setbacks.
They are not alone in that regard. A number of clubs in Super League are in a similar position. Wigan really could use a settled 2014 season. The World Club Challenge will not allow them that luxury.
The National Rugby League has not seen a club win back-to-back titles under a unified competition since the Brisbane Broncos won titles in 1992 and 1993. Over the last decade or so we have seen teams with the potential to go back-to-back only for those sides to fall away later in the season. I believe the World Club Challenge and the trip across the world in early February has been a big reason for this.
The Sydney Roosters are a very good side. They have not lost any key players from their premiership winning team from last season. That they do not have to make that trip around the world for the World Club Challenge sets them up with a great opportunity to win back-to-back titles. Their preparation for the 2014 NRL season is settled. Wigan will just be another pre-season opponent for the club. That trip around the world at this time in the season is a killer, and the Roosters season will be that much better off for not having to make that journey.
I feel sorry for Wigan that they will have to make that journey.
While the game against the New Zealand Warriors really is just a hit out for both teams, I have no doubt that the Sydney Roosters will look to put on a decent performance against them.
My concern is that the lack of preparation and the journey down under will take so much out of Wigan that they will get slaughtered by the Roosters. Throw in the possibility that the game could be played in hot, humid conditions and what chance do Wigan have of even being competitive in the game?
I have said for many years now that the way the World Club Challenge is set up is totally unfair for the team that is required to travel. Rugby League is a tough enough game to begin with without having to add so many extra hurdles and variables for one team to deal with that the other team does not.
If I had to guess at what we will see during the World Club Challenge, it would be a completely one sided contest. I think it will be a big enough loss for Wigan that we will not see a World Club Challenge played in Australia for a very long time…as happened in 1997 during the expanded World Club Challenge competition held that year.
If you wanted to bet now at William Hill you could get the Roosters at 1/8 to win the match while Wigan has been posted at 9/2. Interesting odds but you’d have to go with the Roosters at home.
One thing Wigan fans can hope for is that their players soak up the experience. That they see the standards set in Australia and New Zealand. That they take on board the performances of their opposition and they set their standards at the same level.
Whatever the result in the 2014 World Club Challenge, it will not be a reflection on the ability of the Wigan club. It will not be a marker for which we will be able to measure the club. Wigan is on a hiding to nothing when they take part in the 2014 World Club Challenge. Hopefully one day this competition gives both teams an equal chance of winning and it can be a trophy that all teams strive to win, not just a bonus trophy you can pick up during the pre-season.