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World Club Challenge in Dubai could be ‘turning point for rugby league’

The World Club Challenge was brought back to life earlier this season, with St Helens win over Penrith Panthers only the second time a British club side has won the event on Australian soil – the previous being Wigan Warriors victory over Brisbane Broncos in 1994.

Prior to this, the future of the event was in doubt as a run of Australian dominance and the increasing value of playing in the NRL has led to a lack of interest from down under, with the challenge seen as more of a hinderance than a chance to prove yourself as the best club side in the world.

Despite this, many in the UK still see the World Club Challenge as a chance to showcase rugby league to the world and after years commentating on the event, former Sky Sports figures Eddie Hemmings and Mike Stephenson are pushing for it to be moved to the Middle East.

More specifically, Hemmings spoke on the Eddie and Stevo podcast about how current RFL President Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, has ambitions of taking the event to Dubai.

“If we could get a World Club Challenge in Dubai in the future, which is something that Lindsay Hoyle on our podcast said a number of weeks ago, that’s his dream. A World Club Challenge or a 9s tournament in Dubai, what a showcase that would be,” said Hemmings.

This was backed up by Stevo, who stated that the only reason rugby league and the NRL is so big in Australia now is because elite figures were showcased the sport in the early nineties – leading to the formation of Super League in 1996 and the NRL in 1998.

“I remember going back around 30 years where several executives from Fox Sports went to that game in Brisbane (against Wigan) and actually got their heads together and said, you know, this is a very good game and look at the crowd,” said former Great Britain World Cup winner Stevo.

He continued: “And therefore, that’s how it started. That’s right. We got people involved that had the money. It was the people who run Sky in the UK, the people that run Fox in Australia, and all of a sudden, they said, what a great game.

“That was 1994. Then in 1995, they announced the start of Super League in the summer over here, and 1996, it all kicked off. It shows we’ve got to showcase the game, showcase it wherever we can.”

These comments came after Stevo encouraged Super League to target the Middle East and Arab ‘multi-billionaires’ in a bid to improve the financial state of the game in the UK.

“I get so upset when I look at people who buy football teams and the millions and millions that goes in and I just wish that one would say ‘well we want to back a rugby league team instead’.

“Those that run clubs, just send out letters. Send it to Dubai and all the Arab countries and say, listen, you don’t have to pay billions. Just come in with a couple of million and take over the entire club.

“So you know, any of you multi-billionaires out there come on board the greatest game of all.”

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