Origin over: time for rugby league’s true pinnacle
English player John Bryce is tackled by Australia Glenn Stewart (left) and Steve Price the during Australia versus England Rugby League World Cup pool match at Docklands Stadium in Melbourne, Sunday, Nov 2, 2008. Australia won 52 - 4. AAP Image/Julian Smith
Now that State of Origin is finished for 2013, hopefully the rugby league world can afford the same hype and bombast to the game’s true pinnacle – the Rugby League World Cup.
State of Origin is an incredible demonstration of what rugby league is all about and it will always hold a special place in the heart of all fans.
Yet we cannot let this distract us from the fact international rugby league success should be the absolute highest honour a team or player can strive for.
Rugby league had the first World Cup of either rugby code, in France of all places, in 1954. As such, it should be far ahead of its step-sister, rugby union, yet somehow it is not.
It doesn’t help that the media seem to afford no space to the development of rugby league around the world.
Rugby league is by no means an international juggernaut, but very promising steps are being taken across the globe which should be documented, congratulated and celebrated.
For those who have been kept in the dark over RLWC developments by the mainstream media, here are but a few of them:
Italy and the United States both had to undergo qualification tournaments in their respective regions to get a place at this year’s World Cup.
Italy were only separated from Lebanon by points difference in the European group, which shows the side isn’t just a ring-in to fill a spot, it had to genuinely fight for its chance to compete in England and Wales come the end of the year.
With players like Anthony Minichiello (also captain) and Craig Gower both committed to represent Italy at the tournament, they could be the surprise packet at their very first World Cup.
The USA had a less torrid trial to enter the competition, but the greatest sign from them is the high number of domestic representation in that qualifying squad.
Only eight of the 28 man squad played outside of the United States, which shows a lot of promise in the US domestic scene, especially when considered that Jamaica had very high representation from English rugby league sides.
Under the tutelage of NRL coach Matthew Elliot, the United States will be playing in their first Rugby League World Cup and, like Italy, could surprise a few pundits who won’t give them a chance against some of the more established nations.
Speaking of Matthew Elliot, the calibre of coaches which are now attached to international teams has greatly improved on the road to the RLWC, with many now being led by current or former NRL coaches.
Rick Stone at Fiji, Steve Price at Samoa and Mal Meninga working with Adrian Lam at Papua New Guinea are all great signs for these nation’s chances.
England, New Zealand and France have all indicated they will partake in warm-up matches against Italy, the Cook Islands and the USA respectively, giving these developing countries even more experience against the top sides of international rugby league.
So let’s all leave Origin in the past, get excited about the World Cup and encourage the spread of the gospel of rugby league across the world.
The Rugby League World Cup should be the pinnacle of our sport, it’s about time we start treating it as such.