The competition began unofficially in 1976 as a match between Sydney's Eastern Suburbs club and the English RFL Premiership winners St Helens (Salford were English Champions in 1976). In 1987 another unofficial match took place when Wigan chairman Maurice Lindsay invited Manly-Warringah to Central Park. The first official World Club Challenge was contested between Widnes and Canberra in 1989. Three further matches, each involving Wigan, were staged in the early 1990s.
If only we could see a genuine contest between Wigan and Brisbane – a World Club final. Alas, it will never happen. Oh sure, a game might be arranged, but logistics dictate that one side would be out of season, rusty or tired, and away from home.“ ” The Sydney Morning Herald, September 1992
With the outbreak of the Australian Super League War in 1995, the World Club Challenge was not staged again until 1997. In that year the competition was restructured to include 22 clubs from the Australian and European Super League competitions. As it was contested over 6 rounds in 2 hemispheres, with $1,000,000 prize money, the competition was prohibitively expensive to stage, and it reportedly lost over $5,000,000. This, coupled with the poor ratings and attendances that were achieved both in Australia and Europe, led to the competition being postponed for two seasons.
Returning to a one-off match between both League champions for a 1998 World Club Challenge as a show-piece fixture at Ellis Park in Johannesburg was mooted. However this didn't eventuate.
When it was resurrected in 2000, the World Club Challenge was once more played between the winners of the premierships in Australasia and Europe. It has since been contested annually in various venues in the United Kingdom (never in Australia) in February or late January, before the commencement of the Super League and National Rugby League seasons.
Australian commentators sometimes deride the competition, citing the British refusal ever to play the game outside of the UK, the effects of jet lag on the Australian teams (who often arrive in England only a couple of days before the game) and the wintry conditions as reasons for Australian teams' poor performances. Also the fact that it is played at the start of the new season instead of at the end of the previous season also affects teams' performances as usually the rosters have considerably changed so the teams that take the field are not the ones that won the respective premierships.
For these reasons and until it is played either in a neutral venue or in Australia every other year, it has been viewed as nothing more than a pre-season warm up game by most Australasian teams and fans.
A working party has now been established to look into the feasibility of conducting the match in either a neutral or Australian venue in the future and also looking into the possibility of expanding the tournament aswell.
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