British sides braced for the bad news

the latest round of Super League's world championship
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The Independent Online
When the Salford coach, Andy Gregory, was asked what he had learned from his trip to Australia, he replied with his characteristic blend of honesty and irreverent wit: "Not to go back."

The resumption of the World Club Championship this weekend is a suitable subject for gallows humour. Salford were merely one of the victims last time around, and how they and other British clubs bounce back over the next couple of weeks will determine whether there is anything to smile about.

Maurice Lindsay, whose offspring it is, must be obliged to believe that there will be. "What the critics forget is that there is still every chance of a British team reaching the final," the Super League chief executive said.

"If Bradford and Wigan finish top of their group, as I think they will, they will have home draws in the quarter-finals. Those will be massive matches in front of massive crowds and you wouldn't want to bet your house against them both winning.

"Teams like London and Wigan, playing at home in the second stage, are both capable of springing surprises. And Bradford are still a fine football team, who will have learnt a lot from their first three matches."

There is no unanimity within the game, however, about the lessons that should be drawn.

"Take Andy Farrell. He's devastated," Lindsay said. "He thinks he's let himself, his club and his country down and he's determined to put it right. Other players - even some at the same club - are making excuses for themselves."

Or, as the chief executive of one club - not Wigan - has found, there are players whose attitude is: "Of course they're better. They get paid more than us."

Lindsay has a different, but related, alibi. The gap between the two countries exposed by the first round of WCC matches does not, he believes, demonstrate that the game in Britain has gone backwards, but rather that Super League in Australia has leaped ahead in spectacular fashion. It is a comforting theory, but no one in Australia - even Super League's true believers - would seriously claim that their game is in the middle of a new golden age.

It might, though, look that way when the likes of the Canberra Raiders and the Brisbane Broncos take the field this weekend. If crowds in Britain were impressed by Penrith, Auckland and Hunter, they can expect to be amazed by the two most exciting club sides in the world.

Although Wigan and London will have genuine hopes of surprising them, they will also be hoping that spectators will turn out in greater numbers than they have for the competition so far to see how good the latest visitors are.

"I hope that rugby followers in London will turn out in force," said their chairman, Barry Maranta. "Union people have got excited about John Bentley and Alan Tait on the Lions' tour, but they wouldn't stand out in a rugby league team.

"We've got players coming now like Laurie Daley, Bradley Clyde, Allan Langer and Steve Renouf who are a million miles ahead of anything that has ever been seen in rugby union. It would be a tragedy if crowds didn't turn out to see them."

Certainly, it would be disappointing if London and Wigan - one hesitates to extend the argument to Halifax on their form so far in the tournament - do not give the Daleys and Langers a game on British soil.

From the other side of the world - and, hopefully, with the exception of Bradford - the game here is bracing itself for more bad news. At least one club arrived there to a welcome that made them feel at home. Warrington's training pitch in the sunny, beach-side suburb of Cronulla was flooded by torrential rain. It could be an omen.

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