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NRL: Where Test matches are meaningless and trials on suburban ovals are essential

Peta Hiku in the haka for New Zealand. (NRLPhotos/Nathan Hopkins)
Expert
16th January, 2018
102
2652 Reads

NRL players are far too valuable to actually travel internationally for internationals – but we’ll send them out onto suburban parks in February in front of no-one.

If any sport can get its priorities consistently arse-about, over the course of more than a century, it’s rugby league.

On one hand, the clubs are telling us they have, and will exercise, veto rights over internationals played during a supposed international window.

That’s why they are baulking at releasing New Zealand and England players for a sanctioned Test in Denver on June 23.

The clubs want to know how many people are going to show up, whether it will be on TV, how much national exposure will it get – and don’t want the players to go anyway even though there are no NRL matches that weekend.

Yet where is their concern for leveraging their own pre-season to help rugby league get maximum benefit from these precious thoroughbreds crossing the sideline?

Penrith v Sydney Roosters at Panthers Stadium. Oh they are crying out for rugby league in Penrith, aren’t they? Probably need the rules explained to them. Penrith today, tomorrow Castle Hill.

Cronulla v Manly at Southern Cross Stadium. I believe players will be doing a full week of promo in the Sutherland Shire to spread the league gospel before this one. Daly Cherry-Evans is even going to co-host the Good Morning Miranda show on Channel 78, watched by millions.

Penrith v Canterbury at Belmore Sports Ground. The people of Sydney really don’t get enough rugby league, they show up in their tens of thousands at the mere mention of the word “Steeden”.

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Cronulla v Wests Tigers at Campbelltown. Well, Campbelltown is one of the world’s great cultural and political capitals – which is why we are sending our number one international property, the Tonga Mate Ma’a, there in June.

Tonga Rugby League World Cup 2017

(NRLPhotos/Dave Acree)

You play at Campbelltown and there are bound to be movie stars, captains of industry, presidents and prime ministers in the crowd. It’s absolutely essential for the survival and spread of rugby league for this game to take place.

Denver? Why the hell would we go there? Surely the England-New Zealand game should be in LA or New York or Jacksonville.

None of them are as big time as Campbelltown, of course, but…

Yes, every time one of our players takes the field it must count for something… unless we organised the game and the coach insists on it in which case it can count for nothing.

I will add many trials not listed sarcastically above do serve a greater purpose than giving the coach a look at the third-string hooker. If the clubs applied the same standards to themselves as they are attempting to project on Moore Sports regarding Denver, then they would all serve a greater purpose.

These clubs think they know better than the people hosting the 2025 World Cup when it comes to the American market and yet they flood their own already-drowning backyards with pre-season games, with no regard to trying to create just a little bit of scarcity.

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You can’t sell your product to Sydney 11 times a year so let’s try to sell it 12 times! Or, better yet, let’s not try to sell it at all – just open up the gates and get it over with.

It’s obscene to think that Jared Waerea Hargreaves and James Graham and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and these guys are considered too good for Mile High Stadium but perfectly suited to Belmore and Penrith in February. It’s ridiculous to think that a trial at Southern Cross Stadium ticks some box, somewhere, that a full international in Colorado does not.

But there you go. That’s rugby league.