GIVEN a helping hand from Hollywood superstar Russell Crowe, Super League chiefs feel the inaugural World Club Series could soon develop into a stronghold in rugby league’s calendar for years to come.
Domestic champions St Helens face NRL premiers South Sydney for the World Club Challenge title on Sunday, February 22 with Langtree Park already sold out.
But, for the first time, it forms part of a treble-header of action pitting England’s best against some of the finest Australians teams on offer as the warring competitions battle it out to see who reigns supreme.
Warrington Wolves host St George-Illawarra on Friday February 20 before Wigan Warriors tackle Brisbane Broncos the following night ahead of the climax.
Gladiator star Crowe, who co-owns Souths and helped fund their first Premiership in 43 years, is set to fly into the UK to embrace the expanded format.
Super League general manager Blake Solly said: “He’s Tweeted that he wants to come.
“It’d be great to see him there. For him and Jamie Packer, the co-owners, it must be very satisfying to have taken the club from where it was winning the NRL Premiership and then playing into the World Club Challenge.
“I know (ex-Souths CEO) Shane Richardson and Russell are huge believers in the competition. They feel international club rugby has huge potential and were instrumental for us in convincing the NRL that it needed to expand.
“We always believed it would be successful but the early signs are it will be really successful and something we can build on over the next decade.”
Solly added: “Tickets are selling really fast and we know from the experience of the World Cup that once you post one sell-out it’s like a domino effect.
“We’re pretty confident the other games will sell really well and we’ll see packed crowds watching the best of Super League take on the best of the NRL in the series.”
Ordinarily, the World Club Challenge has been a one-off contest between the two champions, generally played in this country.
But the likes of Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington have lobbied hard for it to be extended and this month will see that vision come to life.
Australian-born Solly said: “NRL clubs are taking it very seriously as the pride of their league is on the line.
“I know enough about Australian sport to know that no one wants to come over here and lose a trophy.
“The whole series will be fantastic to decide which is the strongest competition.”