Steve Mascord, London -Feb 14, 2013
NRL and Super League clubs have agreed to play next year's World Club Challenge in Australia and expand the competition to six teams in 2015.
As his Rhinos prepare to take on Melbourne next Friday, Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington said he hoped the agreement would be formalised shortly.
Next February's clash between the Super League and NRL premiers would be the first WCC decider played in Australia since 1994.
''That's where we've got to and we would hope it would move a step further and become formalised,'' Hetherington told Fairfax Media.
''It's all meant to integrate with the international calendar. If there's an international tournament in one hemisphere, then the World Club Challenge will be in the other.''
Expanding the competition to six teams in 2015 - in the UK - will make it 18 years for the concept to have recovered from the disastrously lopsided 1997 competition.
Hetherington said a schedule for five to six seasons had been agreed on, moving between hemispheres and between two- and six-team formats. While he has been pushing for an expanded WCC for some years, it's understood this time the Australasian clubs are on the same page. ''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,'' Hetherington said.
The expansion is likely to be welcomed by players. ''I've played in a few of these and they probably don't get the recognition they deserve,'' Melbourne utility Brett Finch said.
After a disrupted start to their stay in England, when a bus driver slept in and they had to take a fleet of taxis to their Richmond hotel, Melbourne's preparations for the Headingley showpiece kicked off in earnest when it trained at the exclusive Eton school.
Utility Finch has just returned from a stint with Wigan but says coach Craig Bellamy is so hard working that he is unlikely to be asked to help with tactics. ''Obviously, I've played them a few times and know how good they are,'' Finch said. ''If he asks my advice, I'll be happy to give it but you know how hard he works and prepares. He's probably got as much knowledge as I do.''
Finch is expected to fill in at hooker off the bench.