Rugby league has been focused on expansion in recent times, and rightly so. But amidst the fears that constantly surround the code – crowd attendance is not at world standard, only Easter Australia and Northern England play the game – it seems to be expanding faster than it ever has.
But we need players.
This may seem obvious, but outside Australia, New Zealand and England, we do not have any players that we call “what a freak” or “he’s a superstar”.
Papua New Guinea will produce some in the near future, no doubt (watch out for Jessie Joe Parker- currently trialling at St. George Illawarra).
But watching the ITU World Championship (Triathlon) in Sydney, I continually heard about the ITU investing into talent outside the heartland areas. They announced athletes from countries that would have struggled to field a triathlete in the 2000 Olympics.
The advances were evident as a Chilean won the initial round, beating out the world champ, Aussie Emma Moffatt, and a Kiwi.
Rugby league should be doing the same: invest in players from outside heartlands and produce future “superstars”.
Imagine players from Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan, Finland, El Salvador, Yemen and the like playing our great game and being recognised as “super-freaks”. The nations around the world would start to recognise their players playing our game and our game becoming theirs.
Jamaica is making great strides, and they will produce great players. But the way a country takes to a game in recent times is by seeing a national hero and the nation follows the hero.
Jamaica will produce players with the flair that attract all sports lovers, and that’s what league needs, but the world has more to offer as well.
The RLIF, RLEF and the ARL needs to invest in players outside of the heartland.