Going global in rugby league’s brave new world
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Finally, having a passport is becoming worthwhile for rugby league fans with English Super League side Catalans Dragons taking their match against Warrington to the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona this weekend in the hope of drawing a few interested onlookers.
It’s probably about time some of rugby league’s much maligned administrators got a few pats on the back.
An insider with the Rugby Football League has told me that ticket sales for the match have been going better than expected. The French are taking them up in droves, with extra coaches being put on.
But amongst locals, there has also been solid interest.
After all, there is a small break in the football window and residents of Barcelona are fiercely proud of being Catalan. So anything that shares the name will always get a second glance.
But this isn’t about rugby league taking over Barcelona, it’s not even about trying to pronounce Raudonikis after too many sangrias.
It is that, finally, there seems to be a concerted effort to spread the game.
The game’s governing body in the UK, the RFL, probably had a sobering wake up call when England smashed France 66-12 in Paris last Saturday.
I say wake up call because there may have been some excuse for thinking they had done all the hard work following the success of the Dragons in Super League and new club Toulouse in the Championship.
However, despite the result, I feel the organisers should be praised for having the guts to take the game to Paris in an attempt to broaden the game’s appeal.
It’s probably a good thing that the swanky do held to attract the sponsors was scheduled before the game rather than after.
But at least it seems someone is trying.
For too long, an international calendar was simply an after-thought for rugby league administrators. But now, the momentum from the last World Cup actually seems to have moved into something tangible.
Apart from the Four Nations at the end of the year, my interest will lie in the Pacific Nations Cup and European Nations Cup, which are being held at the same time.
It’s encouraging to see that a game so often mocked for not existing outside New South Wales or Queensland in Australia and the M62 corridor in the UK, will now see matches played in Limerick, Glasgow, Tripoli, Belgrade and Moscow.
Real success might be a long way away, but that is where it stays until you start that journey.
It makes me wonder if the Roosters shouldn’t be given more incentive to be more imaginative when they play the role of travelling circus.
The Sharks and Rabbitohs have taken matches to Adelaide and Perth this year, so why can’t the Roosters ditch their on-again-off-again love affair with the Central Coast and try Rockhampton, the Sunshine Coast, or even Port Moresby.
We hear they all want an NRL franchise, so why not test the waters with a few games?
The same could be argued with the idea of stealing the English concept of playing a whole round at one venue.
The Super League have seen great success staging a whole round of matches at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium and then Edinburgh’s Murrayfield, but then we get all creative and think the concept might work at Suncorp.
The whole reason the English concept worked was because it was held in a whole new area. It is pointless taking the game to Brisbane. You’ll hardly win over any more converts by getting them to watch the Sharks Vs the Warriors.
Good things have been done by people thinking outside the square and making bold decisions.
League fans can only hope they continue to see more, not less.