It may seem unlikely given that the NRL sides have beaten their Super League counterparts in six of the last seven editions of the World Club Challenge, but between 2004 and 2008 the English sides were undefeated.
This run contained two victories apiece for the Bradford and the Leeds Rhinos while St Helens also got in on the act in the 2007 and Last Word on Rugby has recounted that stunning period where Super League could have justifiably been seen as the marquee competition.
Bradford Bulls 22-4 Penrith Panthers – 2004
Bradford came into this match after a record-breaking season becoming the first side to claim the treble of Grand Final, Challenge Cup and League Leaders in one campaign.
Their opponents also had an impressive year as they won the minor premiership and beat reigning champions Sydney Roosters to earn their first title since 1991.
During the regular season, the Panthers had conceded the second-most points of the top-eight teams and they trailed 16-0 at the break with Lesley Vainikolo, Leon Pyrce and Logan Swann all crossing.
Penrith were given hope by hooker Luke Priddis who cut the deficit shortly after the restart but Bradford sealed an outstanding performance through Rob Parker’s late score.
Leeds Rhinos v Canterbury Bulldogs – 2005
The domination continued with Leeds in 2005, coming off the back of their maiden Super League title beating the Bulls, who faced a Canterbury side who had a young Sonny Bill Williams in their ranks.
The match took place at Elland Road rather than Leeds’ Headingley home and over 37,000 fans saw the highest-scoring match in the competition’s history.
A maiden series victory was effectively sealed in a first-half display which saw the Rhinos lead by 20 points after five tries including a superb solo effort by Danny McGuire.
Canterbury’s fate was confirmed when Richard Mathers and Jamie Jones-Buchanan crossed with the Bulldogs’s four late tries not enough as the English champions held on for a 39-32 win.
Bradford Bulls 30-10 Wests Tigers – 2006
The Bulls earned another shot at world glory when they avenged their Grand Final defeat by Leeds by triumphing 15-6 at Old Trafford.
In contrast the previous year had seen the Wests Tigers cap a remarkable rise by claiming their first premiership in their maiden final with a comfortable 30-10 victory against North Queensland Cowboys, just five years after their formation.
Both sides were without six of their Grand Final winning teams but Bradford opened the scoring early through Marcus Bai, a winner with Leeds 12 months earlier, crossing on debut.
The Australians hit back with Daniel Fitzhenry’s try but Stuart Fielden’s impressive solo effort and assured goal-kicking by Iestyn Harris gave the English side an eight-point lead at the interval.
A second World Club Challenge victory for Brian Noble’s men was effectively confirmed with Fielden grabbing another score before Stanley Gene also notched on debut and Bai secured his double.
Brett Hodgson added a late consolation for the Tigers but they were well beaten and have yet to even reach another NRL Grand Final since.
St Helens 18-14 Brisbane Broncos – 2007
Emulating their Yorkshire counterpart’s feat three years earlier, the Saints had achieved the treble, sealed by a 26-4 defeat of Hull FC but came into this encounter with Brisbane having suffered consecutive Super League defeats.
Brisbane had finished the 2006 NRL campaign in third place, 12 points adrift of minor premiers Melbourne but shocked them with a 15-8 victory in the Grand Final.
It was the Broncos who struck first when back-rower Corey Parker pounced on an Ade Gardner mistake and he kicked two further goals to extend the lead before Gardner made amends by scoring himself but the hosts trailed 8-6 at half-time.
As in the opening period, the Broncos crossed early, through winger Darius Boyd but Saints loose forward Paul Sculthorpe converted his own try to restore parity.
Parker slotted over another penalty to edge Brisbane in front but with 10 minutes remaining Gardner collected a crossfield kick from Sean Long to complete a double and secure the club’s first Challenge victory since 2001.
Leeds Rhinos v Melbourne Storm – 2008
Both sides came into the annual showpiece having convincingly won their respective Grand Finals, the Rhinos seeing off St Helens 33-6 and Melbourne thrashing Manly 34-8.
Played just a week before their NRL title defence, the Storm were shorn of star players including Cameron Smith and Greg Inglis.
Despite this they struck first through Ryan Hoffmann’s try but Scott Donald’s converted reply and a Kevin Sinfield penalty gave the English side a half-time lead.
In terrible conditions, Sinfield ensured a fifth successive win for the English sides with his second penalty and a drop-goal confirming an 11-4 victory for Leeds.
How have the sides fared since?
Bradford have not featured in the World Club Challenge since 2006 and are working their way back into Super League after spending time in the lower leagues and currently play in the Championship.
Their Yorkshire rivals Leeds appeared in four of the next five editions but could only claim one victory against Manly in 2012 with defeats against the Sea Eagles and Melbourne although the Storm’s 2010 win was expunged after they breached the salary cap.
As for St Helens their next encounter with an NRL side was in 2015 where they humbled 39-0 by South Sydney Rabbitohs, the largest defeat in the event’s history and also lost in the last edition against the Sydney Roosters.
The future of the World Club Challenge
Given recent results, with the NRL sides dominating the event it is clear that there is a clear talent gap between the two competitions.
There has been an interesting shift in the last 18 months with more high profile players from the southern hemisphere coming to ply their trade in Super League such as James Maloney and Sonny Bill Williams (however briefly).
It seems unlikely however that the Super League clubs will bridge that gap and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see the NRL sides continue their stranglehold over the World Club Challenge.
“Main photo credit”