Rugby League growing slowly on world stage
Rugby League has seen a lot of growth in the past decade, and internationally, since the 2008 World Cup. The growth hasn’t been world dominating, but it has been exponential – which is all a sport could ask.
But with this growth the international scene has not really found a formal time slot, like that of Rugby Union and football.
This is going to become a major problem in years to come.
First of all, we must recognise that cricket is played in the summer of the host country – not a universal six-month period.
So it is not impossible for other sports to do the same, but Rugby League does need to establish a calendar, especially for the new and developing nations, to provide a stronger international scene.
The Four Nations is a great concept, in the fact that it encourages promotion (a Northern or Southern Hemisphere team to play against the three top nations of the world).
The problem with this is that these three nations (Australia, England and New Zealand) are continually playing against each other to solidify their position as the top three nations.
Imagine if Wales caused an upset this year and defeated one of the three and came third or second. Nonetheless, in the next Four Nations, the Welsh would be excluded. It’s not a fair system.
The RLEF (The European – and now Northern Hemisphere inclusive – ruling body) has a much better system than the RLIF (The global ruling body).
The Southern Hemisphere has the greatest club competition and strongest international teams, but no protocol or system for developing the new Rugby League nations.
The RLEF has three tiers for the Northern Hemisphere alone. The tiers are used to give nations building blocks to strengthen their side and build a slow, but growing, national fan base.
The three tiers start from the European bowl, which is for entrant countries to gauge where they need to focus on (e.g. technically, positionally and so on).
The next tier, the European Shield, is for the strengthening of the developing nations and to establish some consistent competition and develop a more robust club competition in their home country.
The third tier is for the top European nations (excluding the Four Nations’ teams) to play against each other with a chance of playing in the Four Nations.
Other than these three tiers, there is the MENA Cup (Middle East and North Africa cup), for which credit must go to Lebanon Rugby League for exposing the game in an area that is not the easiest place to live, let alone play.
There is also the Amateur Four Nations (between the amateur players of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, which the Welsh have won eight times of the past 10).
Then, the RLEF is also trying to co-ordinate the North America expansion (and, for some reason, the South Africa RL is being helped by them as well).
The international scene in the Southern Hemisphere though is in a much sadder state.
The Pacific nations are finding their own Tests to play, Samoa are traveling to France to play. And the Asian continent has barely been touched.
Bali is coming along slowly, trying to provide Rugby League as a party along with some competition.
Indonesia is slowly building and Thailand is only in its infancy. But the Pacific nations have been around for a long time and no one has taken responsibility for their development.
The Pacific nations should be having a Cup to play for every year, be it for promotion to the Four Nations or not.
The Pacific nations should involve Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands and Fiji. The five nations can battle it out in a single host country annually.
And the likes of Bali, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan should be offered a chance to play against each other for promotion of this Cup. It can still be called the Pacific Cup as they are all still bordering the Pacific.
And from here, we will see stronger international teams and a stronger World Cup.
The World Cup seems to be the only time when the minnows are ever focused on. But if we focused on them continually then the minnows might just become majors. Or whatever the big nations are called.
The international scene needs to develop for Rugby League to develop internationally; it’s simple, but true.