Headingley to stage club challenge


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The Independent Online

Headingley was today confirmed as the venue for the 2012 World Club Challenge but there is a growing possibility of it being taken abroad in future, according to Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington.

England will stage the annual clash of the champions for the 12th successive year since it was revived in 2000 but only because there was not enough time to consider an alternative for 2012.

Super League champions Leeds say they were prepared to travel to Australia and, with NRL Grand Final winners Manly Sea Eagles also proposing a Middle Eastern venue, Hetherington admits the February 17 clash could be the last for some time on English soil.

Hetherington told a news conference at Headingley: "Whilst there has been talk about that for the last eight or nine years, it's never really got far.

"But just recently there does seem to be an appetite, particularly from the Australian clubs, to start to explore that possibility.

"I think the fact that we were prepared to play the game in Australia probably took the Australians by surprise and it made the NRL think seriously about staging it. "It turned out to be too short a time scale for 2012 but I think for the future it's very much on the agenda now.

"A lot of preparatory work could be done. Indeed, if it was to be in Dubai or the Emirates, work could start now for 2013."

The Challenge, which will be sponsored in 2012 by Heinz Big Soup, is the shared property of the Rugby Football League and NRL but the Rhinos have managed to secure home advantage after playing their four previous fixtures at Elland Road.

Leeds, who will have to re-arrange their Super League round three fixture to accommodate the Challenge, have also been successful with their bid to play on their regular Friday night match-day.

Leeds United are at home the following day and, with both clubs loathe to play on the Sunday, the final decision was taken by Sky Sports, who will broadcast the match live.

Huddersfield's Galpharm Stadium, which hosted three Challenges featuring Bradford Bulls, was considered because of its undersoil heating but Hetherington is confident Headingley can be protected against frost.

"It has taken quite a while to determine both the date and the venue but we are delighted that Headingley should stage this event," he said.

"We desperately want to win the game and, if our crowd and our home stadium gives us that edge, we'll certainly take it.

"Whatever the weather can throw up, we'll make sure the pitch is fit. We now have a lot of technology and we won't have a game here for two weeks prior to that game."

Leeds coach Brian McDermott said: "We'd have played them on their side of the world but the next best thing is to be here in front of our home crowd and hopefully the rest of Super League's fans as well."

Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield, fresh from England's Four Nations final defeat by the Kangaroos at Elland Road, is looking forward to tangling with the Aussies again.

"It's always nice to play against the Australian sides," he said. "We weren't good enough at the weekend but I'm sure the guys involved would love to get another crack, especially against Manly.

"We have some good memories from our previous World Club Challenges at Elland Road but to take on the NRL champions on our home ground will be incredible.

"The lads have talked about this game since the Grand Final. I wish it was tomorrow."

With Headingley's capacity currently set at 20,000, the crowd is sure to be well down on the Rhinos' previous Challenges at Elland Road but costs will also be significantly lower so the game is still expected to make a profit.

Leeds' meeting with Manly in 2009, which the Aussies won 28-20, was watched by 32,569.

Two years ago the Sea Eagles played a warm-up match against Harlequins at the Stoop but so far they have only confirmed a trial game against Cronulla at Toyota Park on Friday, February 3.