OPINION: International Rugby League- Now or Never

Ahead of the England v Samoa game, I will look at the current state of the International game, as well as previewing the England v Samoa game in Sydney which can be found by clicking here.

The International Game or Lack of It

I am a big fan of International Rugby League and I am very jealous of the status of International Rugby Union. The development of our sport on an international stage is the one thing that I would love to see in the next 20 years, I always look back to Rugby Union’s development from the 1995 World Cup in South Africa to now. The growth of the sport from an amateur sport to Japan hosting the World Cup is nothing sort of incredible – but it sets a good guidance for Rugby League.

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There are lots of comparisons to be drawn between the two sports at international level whether that be the quality of sponsorship, the perceived social status of the sport or the media coverage. However the overriding difference between the two sports, is governance both domestically and internationally. The lack of planning from the Rugby League International Federation is nothing sort of embarrassing when compared to World Rugby (ex-IRB). Ask yourself, who will England Rugby League be playing in 2018, never mind where. You don’t know, because the RLIF and England RL don’t know. However, with a simple google search I can tell you that the Rugby Union side will be touring South Africa next June, as well as the normal six nations fixtures and a combination of fixtures against Southern Hemisphere sides in their Autumn Internationals. In fact, their touring schedule up to the 2019 World Cup was decided on the 25th May 2010 (!), a simple overview was provided:

England’s June tours:

2010 – Australia (and NZ Maori)
2011 – Rugby World cup (New Zealand)
2012 – South Africa
2013 – British and Irish Lions / Argentina
2014 – New Zealand
2015 – Rugby World cup (England)
2016 – Australia
2017 – British and Irish Lions / Argentina
2018 – South Africa
2019 – Rugby World cup (Japan)

A simple overview which allows planning not only for the governing bodies, but team management and fans alike.

The lack of planning is perhaps not due to effort from the English side of the international governance, as the RFL and Super League need the international game to flourish to ensure the domestic game develops. However, the frustration and lack of appetite comes from the Australian side of the game, namely the NRL and some of the clubs. The biggest issue being that the State of Origin has outgrown the international game in terms of stature and attraction, probably due to Australia’s continued domination at international level. That’s probably understandable and England and Super League is simply paying the price for a poor 40 years on the field.

     Highlights from the 2006 Tri Nations game between Great Britain and Australia

Pressure from Rugby Union and NFL could actually ultimately play in Rugby League’s favour. Should the growth of NFL and Rugby Union be felt in Australia and there is a feeling that NFL is starting to develop in Australia, like it has in the UK over the past decade. These exterior pressure points could force the NRL to look at its own growth internationally and hopefully that will result in a stronger international game. The announcement of a new international 9’s tournament looks like to try to capitalise on the initial success of the Auckland 9’s and the success that shorter forms of sports can have – like 20/20 cricket.

No matter what unfolds in the next few years, International Rugby League needs a strong leader and someone who can showcase the profitability and need for a strong international game. Someone like Eric Perez, who has set up an incredibly strong Toronto Wolfpack brand would be ideal – we need a visionary not a makeshift approach from RFL or NRL figures, like we have at the moment. It’s time to get the International game to be the pinnacle of the sport once more and it needs to be acted upon as a matter of urgency.

 

 

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