Rebrand the Rugby League World Cup – and ditch the Kangaroos

Ryan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ryan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    In light of the reports that a hybrid game of rugby league and rugby union might be in the works again – this time between the Australian Kangaroos and the New Zealand All Blacks – I’d like to remind those behind the push for that game that they don’t have a mortgage on bad ideas.

    Anyone can have silly thoughts. Regular readers will surely support the notion that that I’m no exception – who could forget when I picked Souths to win the competition this year?

    Well, I’m not done yet, because my next crazy thought involves totally changing the way the Rugby League World Cup is run.

    Let me start by saying that this year’s edition has been very good. There’s been some great football, and also plenty of tension and stories.

    It’s hard to go past Tonga upsetting New Zealand as the pinnacle moment thus far, what with the narrative of Jason Taumalolo’s defection, the teams coming face-to-face (literally) during the Haka, and then some fantastic play in the actual game.

    Tonga Rugby League World Cup 2017

    Yet as thrilling as the football has been, I’d still be surprised if Australia doesn’t win the tournament easily, which will put a slight dampener on proceedings.

    The other issue is the constant criticism that it’s not a ‘proper’ World Cup, because the players aren’t really from the countries they’re playing for. My first reaction to hearing such opinions is usually: who cares? As long as the footy is good, does it matter?

    However, I do have something of a remedy for both of those supposed issues, and it involves rebranding the Rugby League World Cup to the ‘Rugby League Heritage Games’, and ditching the Kangaroos, to be replaced with an Indigenous team, made up of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Straight Islanders.

    The NRL All Star game has struggled for a place in the rugby league calendar, yet those who have represented the Indigenous All Stars have stated how important it is to them, and the pride they have in pulling on that jersey. It would be wise to listen to those comments, and place even greater importance on that representative team. Like, for example, having that team compete in a tournament, not a meaningless exhibition match.

    The Indigenous team would therefore represent the ‘heritage’ of Australia in the new format. Other players who would traditionally play for the Kangaroos would, in turn, play for a country with which they have heritage. It’s not too unlike what happens now, when players who don’t make the Kangaroos turn out for other nations.

    The difference would be, this new tournament would be upfront about what’s happening, and own it, with top NRL players being dispersed across the various teams. If necessary, each team would have a cap on how many NRL players they could select.

    The Heritage Games would prevent comparisons to the rugby union and football World Cups, not just because of the name change, but also by virtue of the tournament purposely being different in nature and construct. Its aim would still be to continue to grow the game, but there would be greater parity, along with complete transparency on the eligibility rules and the reasons for them.

    The obvious downside is that the Kangaroos should be the pinnacle for an Australian rugby league player, and we’d be robbing them of opportunities to earn that accolade. However, this tournament is only every four years. Tests against England and New Zealand should remain each year, along with the return of consistent Great Britain tours.

    The new tournament would be less of a World Cup, and more of an All Stars competition – but with a lot more meaning than your standard exhibition matches. It would be high quality, along with being differentiated from other sport’s representative tournaments.

    Bad idea?

    On the contrary, I’m actually starting to talk myself into it.

    Ryan O
    Ryan O'Connell

    Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.

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