Going global in rugby league’s brave new world

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    Australian Rugby League player Andrew Johns, right, is handed off by Leeds Rhinos' Danny Ward as Johns makes his debut for Warrington Wolves during their Super League game at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington, England. AP Photo/Paul Ellis

    Australian Rugby League player Andrew Johns, right, is handed off by Leeds Rhinos' Danny Ward as Johns makes his debut for Warrington Wolves during their Super League game at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington, England. AP Photo/Paul Ellis

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (50)

    • June 20th 2009 @ 8:58am
      Dan said | June 20th 2009 @ 8:58am | ! Report

      I appreciate the sentiments of this article and it is good that league is growing, however in all honesty the time for expansion was probably 50-60 years ago now… With the benefit of a professional structure, rugby league should really be larger than Union, but due to its inept management, it will likely be limited to Aus, NZ and GB for years to come.

      • October 8th 2009 @ 12:18pm
        Rin said | October 8th 2009 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

        I agree, too late now, its competition is Union who are already too far ahead (see: Rugby World cup as the 3rd biggest sporting event in the world after the Olympics and Soccer World Cup) for League ever to catch up, will always be an Aus PNG and Northern England sport. The french will never take it they like their rugby too much, neither will the Safa’s or Kiwi’s.

    • June 20th 2009 @ 10:02am
      The Link said | June 20th 2009 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      Steve, good article, Catalans seem to be bringing fresh ideas to Super League, much in the same way with the Titans and Michael Searle in the NRL e.g. with the Indigenous all stars. The message is then to encourage more forward thinking administrators into RL through expansion into new teams.

      With the international game, well you have to start somewhere.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 20th 2009 @ 10:11am
      DogsOfWar said | June 20th 2009 @ 10:11am | ! Report

      I think the NRL should make every team give up one home game to the NRL, who then underwrites the game, and uses it to expand into a new area. So with 16 games in hand, they could have 4-5 games a year in Perth, 4 game in Adelaide (maybe a double header to fill the ground), 2-3 Darwin, 2-3 in Wellington etc. Areas like Perth could have the games scheduled around Origin time, when NRL crowds are usually at there lowest, but exposure of the game is at it’s highest.

      Would make far more sense that what happens now with NRL clubs, where they just go where the money is and when it suits them. It could only happen in the NRL.

      • Roar Guru

        September 4th 2009 @ 9:38am
        Dan Wighton said | September 4th 2009 @ 9:38am | ! Report

        I think thats a good idea – that way the good of the game will be the priority, not the interests (and hip pockets) of individual clubs.

    • June 20th 2009 @ 11:00am
      jimbo said | June 20th 2009 @ 11:00am | ! Report

      It’ll never fly.

      They only sell the Daily Telegraph in NSW.

    • June 20th 2009 @ 11:58am
      sheek said | June 20th 2009 @ 11:58am | ! Report

      Unless you happen to be a rugby league tragic, I can’t see the game expanding much….. anywhere.

      In RL’s case, they’ve had 100 years to spread the game, or 113 years in British history, & they haven’t spread far from their initial gains, particularly up to WW1.

      It’s ironic that in the amateur union/professional league days, union found it easier to spread their game, because those who moved elsewhere in the world to live or work, took their love of union with them & spread the gospel. Besides which, working class league lovers didn’t travel anywhere near as much as the better heeled union lovers.

      But now that it is a professional sport like league, it’s interesting there is less movement in union because people now wish to be paid. Doing it for love doesn’t seem to cut anymore.

      Often I think league needs to move further away from union as a sport, including a complete name change. Remove the scrum completely, & perhaps substitute a line of scrimmage. How confusing must it be for Americans, for example, to realise there are two rugby codes?

      In the USA, union calls its national comp Rugby Super League (RSL). Americans are impatient at the best of times without having this little mental twister explained to them.

      The other problem for league with two rugby codes, is that union is better established in most places on the globe. The game may be king in NSW, Queensland, Yorkshire, Lancashire & parts of Auckland, but it struggles to gain acceptance elsewhere.

      And no, I won’t mention PNG, because that’s like saying football (soccer) is the national game of Liechtenstein! Regrettably, it hardly cuts.

      The reason why one code hasn’t managed to kill off the other is because intrinsically, neither code is sufficiently superior a spectacle to the other, despite what the aficionados might think. But who would have thought the players themselves might have something to do with the future of the two codes?

      Rugby league players are not transferring to the union game in Australia, but they are increasingly willing to ply their trade in France, Britain & Japan. I would have to say, at present, far better to be a union fan than a league fan.

      And Jimbo, I love that line about the daily telegraph (which I refuse to acknowledge with capital letters)!

    • June 20th 2009 @ 12:46pm
      Nick said | June 20th 2009 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

      So they’re playing a game in Spain… Biarritz plays Heineken Cup games in Spain (the Basque part) frequently and sells over 30 000 tickets… But I do like the Super League idea of having whole rounds elsewhere. Might be a bit heavy to have 8 games on the road (there are only 14 Super League teams now, and there has only been 12 for a long time). Maybe a good idea would be a split round four games in Perth and four games in wellington/Auckland…

      Also there is no point trying to build an international calender without grass roots support. Rugby Union is learning this the hard way; eg. Italy play excessive fixtures like a true rugby nation but keep failing… why? Not enough grassroots rugby in Italy. Instead League should be encouraging more clubs to be established in other nations, like this supposed USNRL – though I’ll believe it when I see it.

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