Chomping at the bit ... Billy Slater. Photo: Getty Images
NRL premiers Melbourne were forced to sit out a key weekend of the pre-season potentially damaging their championship defence because of a confusing political dispute in English rugby league.
Instead of playing Wakefield in front of 1887 fans on Sunday at The Stoop, the Herald can reveal the London Broncos wanted to play the Storm in a World Club Challenge warm-up.
The cancellation leaves the Storm going into their season opener against St George Illawarra on March 10 underdone, and is a concern to officials.
The Broncos blame the cancellation of the game on a Rugby Football League demand for a fee. The RFL says it didn't want a penny but that anyone staging a warm-up is required to contribute to costs of the visiting NRL club.
''Frank Ponissi from the Storm rang me and said, 'Why don't we have a game?''' Broncos coach Tony Rea told the Herald.
''It wasn't a share of the gate, the league put a big fee on the game. Plus costs, plus everything else, it got to the point where we couldn't do it.
But an RFL spokesman countered that it would be wrong for Leeds to take a financial risk in playing the game and the Broncos to take none.
''All financial arrangements surrounding the hosting of the World Club Challenge and any warm-up fixture are the preserve of the clubs involved. It is the clubs who decide how profits are shared from the World Club Challenge and whether they wish to stage a warm-up game,'' he said.
''It is custom that any club which hosts a warm-up fixture is expected to meet all additional costs incurred by the NRL champions and reach agreement with the Super League champions on the size of any contribution to travel costs from Australia. ''Neither the RFL or the ARLC gain financially from the staging of the World Club Challenge or a warm-up fixture.''
Manly and Melbourne have played WCC warm-up games in the capital to big crowds in recent seasons. Rea said it was a golden opportunity missed.
''The whole thing about the Melbourne Storm coming to London - big cities love big-ticket events,'' Rea said.
''This would have been a big-ticket event, which would have been great.
''I hope everyone has learnt from this, and let's find a way to make it happen, not find a way for it not to happen because it's a clever way to go about it in future. I think [the league] lost focus on all the levels of what could have been achieved by having a team come here. The league should have found a way to make it happen.''
Instead of a full-scale trial, the Storm staged an opposed session with London Academy at Harrow on Friday.