The big rugby league event of this weekend is, of course, the World Club Challenge between Leeds Rhinos and Manly Sea Eagles.
The match, to be played at Leeds’ Headingley stadium, will determine the world’s best rugby league club side.
The World Club Challenge itself has gained in momentum and integrity throughout the last decade and is now taken far more seriously by the Australians than they once would have led us to believe.
This, now annual, fixture is a highlight of the rugby league calendar in both hemispheres, and as such has become a tough and generally competitive fixture in recent seasons.
Manly, as Australian champions, go into the fixture as favourites to overturn a Rhinos side that were the last British club to win the competition, back in 2008 when they defeated the highly-fancied Melbourne Storm.
In 2009 however, the Rhinos succumbed to Manly 28-20 in a prelude of this year’s final.
But with a partisan crowd in the region of an estimated 20,000 at their home ground, the Rhinos stand every chance of repeating their 2008 success in what should be a frenetic and thoroughly entertaining game.
Expect the play-the-ball to be where the match is won and lost, as the Australians look to control this area of the game, just as they have in previous seasons.
One player to look out for is Manly’s David Williams, the Australian international winger who is hoping to make his first appearance since breaking his neck in October’s Grand Final victory.
Coming back from any long-term injury lay-off is always tough, but to return to a collision sport such as rugby league after sustaining a broken neck takes real courage.
“Bet you feel a bit of a plonker,” read the opening line of an email I received from a Mr Terry Hayes after last week’s column.
“How does this man know exactly how I feel on a day-to-day basis,” I wondered? Had he somehow seen into my soul? What other dark secrets did this man know about me?
I was a little unsettled to say the least. That was until I read on, “Bet you feel a bit of a plonker when you read this,” read the full sentence, there then followed a link to Widnes Viking’s official website.
More specifically, the link led me to a story about the attendance and viewing figures for the most successful opening weekend in Super League history, which included the Sky Sports viewing figures for the opening game of competition between Widnes Vikings and Wakefield Wildcats.
The number of people tuning in to that match a fortnight ago was 75 per cent up on the average television audience for the 2011 season, with only the Super League Grand Final pulling in more viewers during last season.
For those of you that didn’t read last week’s column, Mr Hayes’ comment about me feeling like a “plonker” was in direct response to my suggestion that by scheduling Widnes and Wakefield as the opening televised match of the new Stobart Super League season, the RFL and Sky were failing in their duties to promote the game to television audiences, and should have had two of the game’s top clubs as the opening televised fixture instead.
The evidence highlighted by Mr Hayes may well be an indicator of the success of the RFL’s recent sponsorship deal with the Stobart group to have 100 of its 2000-strong fleet of lorries emblazoned with the Super League logo and club colours.
One man who may disagree however, is my old friend and former team-mate, Hull KR legend, Paul Fletcher, who posted on his Facebook page that he’d travelled from Hull to all manner of places, including York, Scunthorpe, Bolton, Crewe, Ipswich, Rotherham and back again last week without seeing a single Stobart Super League truck on the road.
During my years playing with ‘Fletch’ he struggled to see a pass, so him failing to see a fast moving lorry on the M62 is no great surprise.
Fletcher was always known as ‘Psycho’ by the Robins’ supporters for his uncompromising approach to the game, and he was widely regarded as one of the toughest men to play the game.
However, Fletch is a genuine gentle giant, a real softie and family man. And nowhere was this made clearer than when he made another post on his Facebook and Twitter pages on Saturday.
Fletch is auctioning off a signed Hull KR shirt to raise funds to send Ellie May Mowforth to Disneyland. Ellie has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. She is six years old.
Please support this most deserving of causes, join the Ellie May Mowforth Cancer Charity Group on Facebook.
l If you have any comments or questions about rugby league, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.