How future Rugby League World Cups can be improved

Dr Chop Roar Guru

By Dr Chop, Dr Chop is a Roar Guru

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21 Have your say

    After taking a week to reflect on the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, I have arrived at the opinion that it was the best one ever – or certainly the best one I’ve ever seen.

    We witnessed six weeks of fantastic footy, played with a level of passion seldom seen in the NRL, after which the Kangaroos emerged victorious with a 6-0 win over England in the final.

    This was a result that many, myself included, foresaw from the start of the tournament.

    However, the fact that the most likely result ended up occurring didn’t take away from the spectacle in the slightest. In fact, this tournament threw up levels of unpredictability and excitement not seen in international rugby league for a very long time.

    In one of the previews that I wrote for the tournament, I said, “If there are to be any major upsets at this World Cup, New Zealand will be on the receiving end”.

    At the time of writing, my gut feeling was that if anyone were to pip the Kiwis it’d probably be Tonga. Having said that, I still backed New Zealand when I previewed the game, so I can’t completely claim that I called it! However, the Fiji upset surprised the hell out of me. I stand and applaud anyone who called that one.

    This World Cup had so many great stories. The Kumuls’ home-town heroics. Ireland’s upset win over a star-studded Italian side. Fiji, Tonga, Lebanon. The war cries. The hymns. All of it, fantastic! A true credit to the people involved and to rugby league as a whole.

    In covering this tournament, I’ve stayed overwhelmingly positive in the things I’ve written because these tournaments come around so infrequently and I wanted to enjoy it while it was on.

    Now that it’s all over, I think this is an appropriate time to point out how the tournament can improve in the future.

    Tonga tall

    (NRLPhotos/Fional Goodall)

    Neutral referees
    There is one thing that makes international rugby league a laughing stock – and no, it’s not the eligibility rules! Having neutral referees is commonplace in most international sports in the world. The fact that rugby league does not do it is a joke, and it must be rectified immediately.

    Of course I understand that rugby league is not football or rugby. All the top referees come from two countries (plus Henry Perenara). There are not world-class officials from all over the world.

    That’s why I’m prepared to cop Gerard Sutton for the final. It’s the biggest game. It deserves the best ref. But for the semi-finals, quarter-finals and group stage there is absolutely no excuse.

    If you have one referee from New Zealand (Perenara) and one team from New Zealand (the Kiwis), surely it’s not that difficult to keep them separate. I mean, all you have to do is assign anyone else to referee the Kiwi games.

    And surely it’s not that hard to adopt a policy, which involves Ben Cummins (for example) officiating all the England games, with the same policy being adopted for Phil Bentham and the Kangaroos’ games (and Perenara for the England versus Australia game).

    I’m not for a moment suggesting that untoward officiating on the basis of national allegiance was an occurrence at the 2017 World Cup. But the fact that the referees are not from neutral countries means that people – justifiably or otherwise – will ask the question.

    That is a bad look for the game. While it doesn’t affect the game itself, it does affect people’s perception of the game, which is bad enough. Given the ease with which the change can be made, I think it’s a no-brainer for the RLIF to enact it ASAP, for all international rugby league – not just World Cups.

    16 teams, four pools, top two through
    This change has already been made and I applaud the RLIF for doing so. The 2017 World Cup saw the farcical situation of Ireland winning two of its pool games and failing to qualify for the quarter-finals, while Samoa won zero and did qualify.

    Although when taking into account quality of opposition, and given the fact that Samoa would probably beat Ireland quite convincingly, the above result does not seem so ridiculous. But to the uninformed observer (of which there are many) this occurrence would look quite strange.

    The 2008, 2013 and 2017 formats were all far from ideal – obviously having a number of teams that is divisible by four is preferable. But these tournaments were formatted as they were arguably out of necessity – the tournament would’ve been too lopsided if it had too many teams.

    But now, having 16 teams will be of great benefit to the World Cup. I’m not sure how the seeding is going to work. But I would like to see it happen based on 2017’s quarter finalists, meaning that Australia and Samoa would be together, New Zealand with Fiji, Tonga with Lebanon, and finally England with Papua New Guinea.

    This would make for a fairer, more balanced and more competitive tournament, as all the best teams are spread out evenly among the groups.

    Api Pewhairangi Ireland Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRLPhotos/Scott Davis)

    The speed of the game
    This was a big one for me. I watched many games on delay deliberately so that I could zap through the stoppages. Coming from watching NRL every week, it was very hard to adjust to having no shot clocks for scrums and drop outs.

    It was also extremely frustrating to have the video referee at the ground, being fed footage extremely slowly by the broadcaster, rather than the lightning quick access to footage that centralised bunker technology has given us in the NRL.

    Centralised bunker technology is not likely to be at either of the next two world cups, given that English and North American rugby league do not have access to this. But I cannot for the life of me fathom why the NRL’s bunker was allowed to gather dust for six weeks, while video referees were struggling to get the exact footage they wanted from Channel Seven.

    Bunkers aside, shot clocks for scrums and drop outs must be implemented into international rugby league immediately. There is no excuse for not introducing these simple measures – they should’ve been in place already.

    Equal pay for all nations
    Ah equal pay. Wouldn’t it be fantastic? Sadly, I cannot see this happening anytime soon, for two reasons.

    Firstly, the RLPA (rugby league Players’ Association) will never agree to have match payments for Kangaroos matches decreased. Secondly, the RLIF cannot afford to pay players from 15 other nations what Kangaroos players earn per match.

    It’s unrealistic to expect players to be paid $10,000 per game like the Kangaroos are. The Kangaroos are the best in the world and have been for a very long time. To be quite frank, they deserve to be the highest-paid team in the World Cup.

    However, the other teams do deserve more. I don’t have access to the books. I don’t know where this money will come from. But as an outside observer, I do find it difficult to believe that a combination of the RLIF, ARLC, NZRL and the RFL couldn’t find enough to prop up second-tier nation player payments to say $1500 per game.

    Perhaps more for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final.

    I think that the goal should be for these bigger organisations to supplement the minnow nations to the extent where their players aren’t losing money by playing in the tournament, and in fact they’re making a little bit for their efforts. I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all.

    Boyd Cordner

    (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

    Greater American presence
    The USA and Canada have been confirmed as hosts of the 2025 edition of the tournament. Concurrently, there has been plenty of talk lately concerning American teams entering the English rugby league system as the Toronto Wolfpack have successfully done this year.

    The likes of Sam Burgess, Jarryd Hayne, Paul Gallen and the Walker Brothers have been linked to a possible New York franchise. That’s all well and good, but what’s more important than the recruitment of ageing NRL stars is the recruitment of local players to learn from the superstars.

    If several franchises from America and Canada are able to infiltrate the English rugby league like the Wolfpack have, it will open up more pathways for local players towards elite rugby league, which will result in the Canadian Wolverines and the USA Tomahawks being more competitive in the long term.

    In the short term, we look towards 2021 where there will be two, or possibly three North American teams. Three teams will compete to qualify – the USA, Canada and Jamaica. The top two, of which one will presumably be the USA, will qualify automatically while whichever team finishes third will fight it out in an intercontinental tri-series against the seventh placed Asia/Pacific team – likely the Cook Islands – and the top Africa/Middle East team – likely South Africa.

    I hope all three North American teams qualify for 2021. I believe it is more important that the USA and Canada are there than Jamaica, seeing as they are hosting in 2025. But an appearance from the Jamaican Reggae Warriors would be fantastic for them, and would open up the possibility of them hosting a home game or two at the 2025 edition, like Papua New Guinea did this year.

    In the meantime, while all these clubs are hopefully being set up across North America, the NRL and Super League could assist by taking the odd game abroad, either pre-season trials, Nines tournaments or proper season games.

    While this wouldn’t do much for the game at a grassroots level, it would generate interest and start to put rugby league on the map a little bit in the lead up to 2025.

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    The Crowd Says (21)

    • Roar Guru

      December 11th 2017 @ 8:01am
      Sleiman Azizi said | December 11th 2017 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      Regarding player payments, I would be surprised if the RLPA didn’t increase payments for any NRL contracted player selected for international duty, irrespective of nation.

      The RLF could adopt a similar protocol with players contracted to play in that league.

      This could leave the RLIF to spend its player payment budget on a smaller pool of players who are not contracted to the NRL or RFL, thereby increasing their payments to something approaching parity with the other league’s players.

      • December 11th 2017 @ 11:05am
        Sydneysider said | December 11th 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report


        how much money did the RLIF bank from this 2017 world cup? The second question is, how much money do they distribute to developing nations like PNG, Tonga, USA?

        I know that the previous world cup in the UK made a good profit, so what did the RLIF do with that profit?

        If the RLIF are serious about expanding the game, they need to distribute the money to nations that want to play international rugby league.

        • Roar Guru

          December 11th 2017 @ 1:00pm
          Sleiman Azizi said | December 11th 2017 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

          I think the figure is around $7 million. Not much, really and their funding program is based on good governance principles though I’m not sure how much national federations get as a result.

          • December 11th 2017 @ 1:58pm
            Sydneysider said | December 11th 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

            $7 million isn’t much at all.

            I think the best place to concentrate the RLIF efforts is in the pacific islands.

            Fiji, Tonga and PNG (I know PNG isn’t a pacific island but it’s in the pacific region).

            They could really have a pathway for those talented players there to play rugby league.

            • Roar Guru

              December 11th 2017 @ 2:24pm
              Sleiman Azizi said | December 11th 2017 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

              I think providing pathways for Pacific Island nations to end up playing in the NRL rather than trying to make the domestic leagues of those nations on par with the NRL.

              As long as you have a dedicated nursery for the professional ranks, I think everything will be fine.

    • December 11th 2017 @ 8:04am
      Johhno said | December 11th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      1) Tighten eligibilty rules eg two switch policy like Jarryd Hayne as an example. He should now be aligned to Fiji for life, no more switches. 100 days notice of your intention to switch if selected by another nation, so nominate your first preference 100-days out from the official naming of world cup squads..

      2) Make special dispensation rules looser. Fiji had to battle with 21 players the whole world cup when Kane Evans/Korbins sims were ruled out. They should of been able to replace them. Tonga were a centre down as well after two games, lucky Konrad Hurrell came in and stepped up so well. But both Fiji/Tonga should of been able to replace them with new squad players. It’s really hard to bring in a new player even if that player is ruled out. The rule should be simple – “if a player is ruled out for the tournament a new squad member can come in as long as it is a swap for swap position. So if a no 7 half-back is out he can’t be replaced in the squad by a prop it has to be a no 7 that comes into the squad eg has played at least 10 first grade games at no 7.. Lebanon only had like 18 players fit in there squad for the Tongan game and did miraculously good against the odds but they shouldn’t of been in that position, and new players should of been allowed to be drafted into the squad, as players were playing out of position vs Tonga..

      3) Forget the NRL haveing to pay other national teams, no way, we already pay the NZ men’s senior side. It opens to many cans of worms if the NRL starts funding other teams. And we should be putting those funds into bush footy here not Tonga or Samoa, or funding the Jillaroos as well, bush footy and the Jillaroos are the NRL’s priority not Tonga/Samoa. And the problem is discrimination. If the NRL funds the samoa/fiji/tonga mens senior sides then what? Do we fund there women’s sides there under-20’s, and then what about PNG or the Cook islands men’s sides and women’s side and u-20’s? The can of worms happens and it becomes clear the NRL can’t fund everyone and it is unfair if some teams get funding while others miss out..

      2021 world cup will be better at 16-teams and some of the sides will get better. The gap has closed, remember england only lost 6-0 in the final, kiwis got hammered in 2013 final. The kiwis won’t as bad at this world cup as some make out, FIji/Tonga only beat them by two points and had good sides, and Fiji had the game of there lives vs them the aussies might have lost that day to Fiji as well. Lebanon really came on and in some ways were the success of the toournament. They were so unlucky vs Tonga, and got dudded by the all england referees vs England.
      Scotland/wales were massive dissapointments, but they were not helped by lots of injuries pre-world cup losing a host of NRL/Super league players eg Scotland had no Peter wallace/keith galloway, wales lost plenty of guys pre world cup…

      • December 11th 2017 @ 1:31pm
        Dazzler said | December 11th 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

        1) This is a tough one. I doubt players are going to pledge their allegiance to a 2nd tier nation missing out on the opportunity of State of Origin and the dollars. I don’t have the answer but if you need to pledge your allegiance forget about seeing another Fifita and Taumalolo movement occurring.

        2) Don’t agree with this point. Who’s to say a certain player plays a particular position so they can replace the player?

        Having the ability to change a player mid-tournament ruins the whole aspect of a squad. Also, who’s to adjudicate the player is in fact injured?

        3) Completely agree.

        My only gripe with the RLWC was the level of officiating was inconsistent. Trying to watch rugby league with a potential fan and explain the rules is difficult when one referee calls it one way then another calls it differently.

        NRL officiating also brings up its fair share of problems so this isn’t just a WC issue…

        • December 11th 2017 @ 3:15pm
          Johhno said | December 11th 2017 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

          Your saying aligence, two-swtiches is not forever aligence. Players at the world cup swore aligence during that tournament anyway. I don’t think it’s a case of forget about JT/Fifita, two switches in your career is plenty and tempting, Andrew Fifita would have still gone to Tonga, a chance to win a world cup for Tonga or make the final as he already has a world cup title in 2013 with roos. I think you overstate the loyalty factor there. And a guy like Micheal jennings, moving towards end of career there is motivation to play for Tonga, and will hopoate now in mid stages of career, will hopoate can always switch to aussies and it would only be one swtich as he’s never played for Roos i don’t think.
          Officiating is an issue.

          Okay i change my mind with options two, if a halfback is injured it doesn’t mean a halfback has to be the replacement. And no it does not change the whole aspect of the squad for the worst. Why shouldn’t of Fiji been allowed to bring in two new guys. It might change the fabric but they should be allowed to have 23 fit guys at there disposal not be told they can’t. Australia were a squad member down to, and they should be able to bring new guys, why should the RLIF force teams to get creative and have plan B’s and causes fatigue when it doesn’t need to, teams should have a right to a full fit 23 at any given time(by fit i mean players who won’t miss the rest of the tournament). Rugby union allows it and it works fine. Soccer doesn’t and it causes problems. Brazil when they got thrashed by Germany had a horror injury list and players playing out of position. Ultimately who is anyone to say to teams they can’t have the right to have a full 23 squad, they would want that flexibility even if it means the group dynamic changes, it happens in rugby union who are you to say they can’t flip flop players in and have a full strength 23 when they want to.
          Independant doctor appointed by the RLIF makes the final decision based on reading the medical reports of the team to make decision if the injury claim is valid eg like the aussie manly boy, he clearly was out after game 1 and wasn’t lying..
          Rugby union that’s how it works, it gets rubber stamped by an independant doctor. NZ at 2011 rugby world cup lost two five eigths during the tournament and had every right to be flexible there and bring in new guys.

      • December 11th 2017 @ 3:55pm
        Terry Tavita said | December 11th 2017 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

        perhaps they shouldn’t pay the kangaroos and kiwis either..let everyone play at a level for passion of country.

    • December 11th 2017 @ 8:21am
      Crosscoder said | December 11th 2017 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      Marketing needs to be targeted to the right areas, and advertising needs to be more than a few sign boards near airports.The marketing for this tournament was to be generous ,average.
      You won’t get past first base in the U.S.A ,unless you promote and do it big time.

      More community involvement such as happened in past English domiciled ones.Ensure it engages all members of the community from all the cultures and backgrounds.

      Ensuring the person who is running the RLWC doesn’t decide to resign, midway through organising,such as Mr Brown did with the RLWC2017.Any distraction or ruction causes problems and doubts.

      The designation of stadiums ,not ad hoc but considered and researched ,where you are close to either a population with some rl knowledge or following or with a community of expats.Cairns and Townsville were hardly success stories.

      Only two country switches allowed.And at least 5 local players included in the makeup of the teams involved.

      Scotland needs to get its act together ,it either increases its player base or forgets the whole thing.There are quite a few European countries ,leaving Scotland for dead on growth and development.

      The need to make bigger profits from 2021 and 2025 is paramount.It is where the majority of development funding for the RLIF originates.

    • December 11th 2017 @ 8:41am
      Johnno said | December 11th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      The stadium choices at WC 2017, were based on hosting money which city or town would stump up the most cash not which was a RL heartland. The RLIF”s business model was about making money from govts who would stump up the most cash not heartlands/best atmosphere/or ticket sales.

      • Roar Guru

        December 11th 2017 @ 10:04am
        Sleiman Azizi said | December 11th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        Does the RLIF earn income from a percentage of ticket sales?

        And if it does, does that income compare favourably with the corporate sponsorship that is possible from staging matches in the bigger stadiums?

        Whatever the case is, the RLIF made their decision and as you stated, there was a specific reason for it.

        The RLIF need some kind of guaranteed funding in order to operate. Relying on percentages may have been a tad too risky in their eyes.

      • December 11th 2017 @ 12:30pm
        Crosscoder said | December 11th 2017 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

        I understand that Johnno,and a sensible commercial decision to maximise revenue.None of us want a loss ,as happened circa 2000.
        But it doesn’t help one iota, if you don’t back it up with decent marketing to fill or near fill stadiums,which add further income to the total revenue.

    • December 11th 2017 @ 10:07am
      Sir Alfie said | December 11th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

      Smarter first round scheduling was needed. There were too many blow outs in week 1, that a lot of people shrugged and lost interest early on. I reckon there could’ve easily been a 10% uplift in attendance and ratings if the week 1 action was more enthralling.

      Secondly, and I know this is difficult, but a bit more flexibility with the finals draw would’ve been good. PNG v England should’ve been played in front of a packed house in Port Moresby, not 5000 in Melbourne

      • December 11th 2017 @ 10:41am
        Torchbearer said | December 11th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        PNG v England should’ve been played in front of a packed house in Port Moresby

        That was a real lost opportunity… 🙁

    • December 11th 2017 @ 10:10am
      paul said | December 11th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

      You’ve made some excellent points and all should be considered by the powers that be. The two standouts are the independent refereeing and player payments.

      It can’t be that hard to bring good young referees from other countries to either Great Britain or Australia so they can get more experience and help form a referees pool. This would resolve that issue of possible bias.

      I’m also wondering why the various Leagues who have national teams in the WC can’t agree on a minimum player payment which is significantly higher than teams receive at present? The same Leagues could contribute to a pool tha guarantees this minimum. Yes, Australia, NZ, etc would be subsidising other nations, but is about building the game and would not be a huge cost, if spread over 4 years.

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