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

Steve Mascord Columnist

By Steve Mascord, Steve Mascord is a Roar Expert


102 Have your say

    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”.

    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.

    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.

    Steve Mascord
    Steve Mascord

    Steve Mascord has covered rugby league in 15 countries and worked for most media organisations that regularly feature the sport, on both sides of the globe. He started off as an 18-year-old cadet at Australian Associated Press, transferring to the Sydney Morning Herald just in time to go on the last full Kangaroos Tour in 1994. He spent three years at Sydney's Daily Telegraph from 2006 before going freelance at the conclusion of the 2008 World Cup. Steve is the author of the book Touchstones, host of the White Line Fever podcast, partner in international rugby league merchandise start-up Mascord Brownz, and proprietor of, and He is married to Sarah and splits his time between London and Sydney.

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    The Crowd Says (102)

    • January 17th 2018 @ 8:54am
      Hanrahan said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      While it is understandable for NRL clubs to be reluctant to release the players they employ it is short sighted and ultimately self-defeating to stymie genuine attempts to spread the game. The NRL Board needs to step in.

      • Roar Guru

        January 17th 2018 @ 10:12am
        eagleJack said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:12am | ! Report

        Never understood why it is the responsibility of the NRL, the governing body of an Australian domestic competition, to promote the International game. What exactly do the RLIF do?

        • January 17th 2018 @ 10:17am
          Fred said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:17am | ! Report

          Not their job to promote it, but they shouldn’t be getting in the way of it either.

        • Roar Guru

          January 17th 2018 @ 10:56am
          Sleiman Azizi said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          What do the RLIF do? They struggle against myopia…

          • Roar Guru

            January 17th 2018 @ 3:17pm
            eagleJack said | January 17th 2018 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

            In other words they take a “we’re not going to do anything” approach and complain when nothing gets done.

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 7:18pm
            Steve Mascord said | January 17th 2018 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

            In any real sense, there is no RLIF because they only get the players once every four years. They have one full time employee in an office below street level in Fitzrovia. The clubs and the national federations don’t want a tangible RLIF so there isn’t one. Forget them.

    • January 17th 2018 @ 8:57am
      Steve said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      I honestly don’t understand the obsession with internationals.

      • January 17th 2018 @ 9:14am
        PanthertillIdie said | January 17th 2018 @ 9:14am | ! Report


        I am with you mate. International’s ?

        NRL land is where it’s at!

      • Columnist

        January 17th 2018 @ 10:04am
        Steve Mascord said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        I don’t understand your obsession with club games.

        • January 17th 2018 @ 10:11am
          Steve said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:11am | ! Report

          My obsession is rugby league. The only reason I continue to hear for the inclusion of RL internationals in the calendar is growth. News Flash, the game is never going to expand and grow. In the last 30 years the only sport to experience huge global growth is basketball and that was mostly because of the Dream Team at the 92 Olympics and the phenom that was Jordan.

          • January 17th 2018 @ 10:49am
            Boz said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:49am | ! Report

            Ha Ha. Man will never fly. Man will never go to the moon. Electric cars will never work.

            Keep on gazing at that navel Steve.

          • Roar Guru

            January 17th 2018 @ 10:53am
            Sleiman Azizi said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:53am | ! Report

            You’re right.

            There is no such thing as rugby league in Spain, Serbia, Greece, Toronto, etc etc.

            People just made it all up so they could get one over on Annandale.

            • January 17th 2018 @ 9:34pm
              duecer said | January 17th 2018 @ 9:34pm | ! Report

              With globalisation, just about every sport has some presence in just about every country. The trick is to translate this into home grown players on the big stage.

            • January 18th 2018 @ 4:34am
              Jeff Morris said | January 18th 2018 @ 4:34am | ! Report

              Yet, its the club game that is growing in Toronto not internationals. The focus in Rugbly League is the club game, not national teams. Taking a regular season NRL match to North America would probably do more to grow the game.

              • January 18th 2018 @ 12:12pm
                Fred said | January 18th 2018 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

                Rugby league internationals in Canada, against the US and Jamaica, got crowds as big or bigger than the Wolfpack home games!

              • January 18th 2018 @ 2:38pm
                Jaime O'Donnell said | January 18th 2018 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

                And the Wolfpack idea was created off the success of the Wolverines

        • January 17th 2018 @ 12:17pm
          E-Meter said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

          Neither do I. There are a lot of club games that are unwatchable. The idea of a test match in Denver would be great for the game.

        • January 17th 2018 @ 5:30pm
          Rob9 said | January 17th 2018 @ 5:30pm | ! Report

          I wonder how many people got hooked on rugby league watching the Kangaroos…?

          • Columnist

            January 17th 2018 @ 7:21pm
            Steve Mascord said | January 17th 2018 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

            Plenty of people in the south of England … people who have no idea what a Castleford or a Leigh are. If you spent any time in London you’d realise why international footy is so important here. Rugby league is utterly invisible except when it’s on, when miraculously 15,000 or 20,000 people will show up to an event in one of the world’s great cities and broadsheet newspapers give it half a page.

            • January 17th 2018 @ 8:07pm
              Rob9 said | January 17th 2018 @ 8:07pm | ! Report

              “If you spent any time in London you’d realise why international footy is so important here”

              I lived in London for 18 months in the early naughties. None of what you say addresses the question originally posed.

        • January 17th 2018 @ 7:36pm
          PanthertillIdie said | January 17th 2018 @ 7:36pm | ! Report

          My obsession with club games is an obsession with the NRL comp. it goes back to my childhood (too long ago), it’s what I grew up on.

          I was also quite young when in my opinion international rugby league died a death. Great Britain stopped being able to compete meaningfully and so we were down to Australia vs New Zealand.
          No one is really able to compete with Australia. Australia should be head and shoulders above the rest too because no other nation is as obsessed with rugby league as we are. Perhaps PNG are the exception to this. Anyone who thinks our game is going to somehow grow to be an international force is dreaming I’m afraid.

          NRL land has a competition that is ultra competitive. On any given day, anyone can beat anyone else. I follow the same team I did from when I was was first aware of the game as a child. Every year at this time of year I get to dream that this might be the next successful chapter in my teams history. I love the drama and the soap operas that play out. I love the TV shows dedicated to it. In essence I love the ‘bubble’ that the NRL is in. This fervour is pretty much only in Australia as you are aware Mr Mascord.
          It’s not that I’m strongly opposed to rep footy. State of origin is the pinnacle of the game as I see it. Who can possibly argue that there is a higher level of footy played anywhere than origin.
          I guess that having lived in the south of England for some time now I have come to accept that the game here is also confined to a ‘bubble’ in the North West of the country. But this bubble doesn’t make national news, it doesn’t register as a national sport and sadly it never will. It has an extremely low standing nationally and yet it is considered to be one of the leading forces in international rugby league that should be challenging Australia’s dominance.
          There is just no competitive product at the elite end of the international game and I can’t be bothered to wait for that to evolve somehow.
          I just can’t wait for NRL season 2018 to start. Another chance to dream!

          • Roar Guru

            January 17th 2018 @ 9:12pm
            Sleiman Azizi said | January 17th 2018 @ 9:12pm | ! Report

            No competitive product at the elite end of the international game?


            Did you not witness New Zealand win half the international tournaments on offer over the last decade?

            Did you not just witness one of the most intense games of rugby league ever played in the World Cup final?

            Did you just not witness Tonga and Fiji take down New Zealand?

            Did you not see the England v New Zealand semi-final in 2013?

            It’s great you have your club dream.

            But all you have argued for is that a club’s dream should get more priority over the future of the code.

            • January 17th 2018 @ 11:14pm
              PanthertillIdie said | January 17th 2018 @ 11:14pm | ! Report

              I have witnessed Australia and New Zealand play out every major final for decades with the exception of England sneaking into this last final. I guess it was one of the most intense World Cup finals there have been but it was clearly more exciting for you than it was for me. I saw a dour arm wrestle that I only ever saw Australia winning. Australia weren’t good enough and should have won by plenty more. But they won – again.

              All these ‘exciting’ matches from the World Cup you mention were for what? Filling 2nd, 3rd, 4th places. Great.

              The NRL is simply far more exciting to me than international rugby league. Tonga, Fiji and others only performed because they were stacked with NRL players. England performed in the final with six NRL players. The NRL is the only chance international rugby league has!

              I’m sorry if I offend you for being far more interested in the NRL than I am in International league fixtures but that’s the way I feel.

              • Roar Guru

                January 18th 2018 @ 8:36am
                Sleiman Azizi said | January 18th 2018 @ 8:36am | ! Report

                I’ve responded on many occasions to the points you’ve raised.

                My offense, such that it is, is the positioning of the NRL as the be all and end all of rugby league.

                In the world of rugby league, the NRL is like an elephant standing in front of the sun.

                The glare makes people imagine it is the source of the light.

              • Roar Guru

                January 18th 2018 @ 9:02pm
                Renegade said | January 18th 2018 @ 9:02pm | ! Report

                Watching the best the sport has to offer in a tournament for “2nd, 3rd and 4th” as you put it, is boring?

                Yet watching Penrith compete for 8th spot every year in a competition they have no chance of winning is exciting?? hmmm sounds awesome.

              • Roar Rookie

                January 20th 2018 @ 8:17pm
                TheEroticGamer said | January 20th 2018 @ 8:17pm | ! Report

                Wouldn’t let me reply to this comment directly before for some reason. Here it is.

                That’s one of the stupidest comments ever made on this website.

                Clearly, being a ‘Roar Guru’ doesn’t require a minimum level of intelligence. Anyone is welcome I suppose.

              • Roar Rookie

                January 19th 2018 @ 1:18am
                TheEroticGamer said | January 19th 2018 @ 1:18am | ! Report


                That’s one of the stupidest comments ever made on this website.

                Clearly, being a ‘Roar Guru’ doesn’t require a minimum level of intelligence. Anyone is welcome I suppose.

              • Roar Guru

                January 19th 2018 @ 6:49am
                Sleiman Azizi said | January 19th 2018 @ 6:49am | ! Report

                In what way was it stupid?

          • January 18th 2018 @ 5:44am
            Ad-0 said | January 18th 2018 @ 5:44am | ! Report

            I’m with you Panther. I’m convinced this obsession with international league is based on some sort of cultural cringe. Nobody really cares about NFL outside the US but I don’t see them trying to cram meaningless internationals down people’s throats. They’re going fine the way they are.

            • January 18th 2018 @ 9:10am
              E-Meter said | January 18th 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

              The NFL often play matches in London & Mexico and the crowds are huge. If by some miracle the NFL brought a game to Australia they’d pack that out as well. As long as it wasn’t the Browns of course.

            • Roar Guru

              January 18th 2018 @ 9:19am
              Sleiman Azizi said | January 18th 2018 @ 9:19am | ! Report

              Internationals aren’t meaningless. You don’t have to like them but others do.

              You’re right. It probably is cultural cringe.

              Got to love the village. Nothing beats it.

    • January 17th 2018 @ 9:11am
      Boz said | January 17th 2018 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      I’m not surprised.

    • January 17th 2018 @ 9:30am
      paul said | January 17th 2018 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      In fairness to the Clubs, they’ll lose players for the best part of 2 weeks, given it takes more than 20 hours to fly to Denver form Sydney, then time to get over the jetlag, train for the game, play on a Saturday night, fly more than 20 hours back to Oz, get over the jetlag, etc.

      The NRL clubs only understand one form of encouragement; money.

      Perhaps the NRL could make a bonus payment to Clubs who have to give up players for Tests, or an additional amount tacked onto their salary cap as “recognition of the sacrifices they have made in the name of spreading our great game”….. or something like that.

      As for having trials outside Sydney, great idea but again the Clubs would have to stump the cash and I assume their argument wold be, they’ll play plenty of games away from home this year.

      • Roar Guru

        January 17th 2018 @ 10:54am
        Sleiman Azizi said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:54am | ! Report

        Clubs don’t pay players. The NRL does.

        The clubs are just money exchanges.

        • January 17th 2018 @ 10:59am
          paul said | January 17th 2018 @ 10:59am | ! Report

          not sure where this idea came from. Must be a reaction to the heat down south I guess.

          Heard of a beastie called a salary cap? The NRL does not have one on itself but each Club does.

          • Roar Guru

            January 17th 2018 @ 11:35am
            Sleiman Azizi said | January 17th 2018 @ 11:35am | ! Report

            The NRL negotiate media deals, not the clubs.

            The NRL give the clubs x% to cover the salary cap and then some.

            You would imagine that a media deal reaching international markets would eventually generate more money for clubs.

            You know, myopia and provincialism tend to obscure the view that bigger slices can come from bigger pies.

            • January 17th 2018 @ 3:32pm
              Paul said | January 17th 2018 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

              the NRL negotiates deals, on behalf of the Clubs. You make the NRL sound like an entity in it’s own right and it’s not

              • January 17th 2018 @ 7:03pm
                Jacko said | January 17th 2018 @ 7:03pm | ! Report

                He is 100% correct tho isnt he Paul….Time the NRL paid the salaries of players too….Get the clubs out of this part of the game as its the clubs that constantly RORT the cap…and make players salaries public, and have access to their Bank accounts…Solve the rorting once and for good

        • January 17th 2018 @ 11:24am
          matth said | January 17th 2018 @ 11:24am | ! Report

          What is the NRL? It is a collection of clubs. It is not the ARL, NSWRL or WRL, whose remit is the state and international games.

        • January 17th 2018 @ 12:51pm
          RandyM said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

          The clubs and players make that money though, not the NRL.

          • Roar Guru

            January 17th 2018 @ 3:06pm
            Sleiman Azizi said | January 17th 2018 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

            Yes, and you don’t think there is more money etc to be had with a broader reach?

            With an almost apathetic approach to promotion etc, Test matches in Australia still draw more than NRL matches.

            Remember when 31,000 turned up in 2014 to watch Roosters v Wigan at the SFS for the WCC title?

            The usual approach is to strike while the iron is hot but in rugby league they tend to let the metal cool down to justify not doing anything.

      • January 18th 2018 @ 4:38am
        Jeff Morris said | January 18th 2018 @ 4:38am | ! Report

        They already lose players for SoO, now for this mid-season? There’s an international window when the season is over. Why not take an NRL game to Denver mid-season instead and promote the hell out of it? NFL takes regular season games overseas.

    • Roar Guru

      January 17th 2018 @ 11:03am
      Nat said | January 17th 2018 @ 11:03am | ! Report

      Hi Steve,
      From a business POV you can understand why some clubs can be hesitant to release their best for fear of injury. Maybe the NRL and RLIF should consider some type of compensation, whether that be cash or cap concessions to allow for another player to be bought into the team in place of the injured player. Further, the player could negotiate a release to play internationals if picked. One would think taking a game to Denver/USA public could deliver tomorrow’s stars to the NRL in the near future. Like the NBL finds 2nd tier American basketballers, the NRL could pique the interest of a few quality running backs not quite there for NFL. There are plenty of great athletes who don’t make it through the college system who could easily find a home here.

      • Roar Guru

        January 17th 2018 @ 11:57am
        Dogs Of War said | January 17th 2018 @ 11:57am | ! Report

        When you get players whom you know are of international quality, then you take that risk that they will be called up to international teams.

      • Columnist

        January 17th 2018 @ 7:23pm
        Steve Mascord said | January 17th 2018 @ 7:23pm | ! Report

        Nat, many, many soccer clubs are much bigger businesses than NRL clubs. They realise their own players aren’t theirs during a fifa window. They realise that if you’re a serious sport those players leave on a Monday and can go anywhere in the world during that FIFA window. Yet piss-in-the-ocean rugby league clubs in Australia think they can dictate where internationals are played….

        • January 18th 2018 @ 6:38am
          Ad-0 said | January 18th 2018 @ 6:38am | ! Report

          European football clubs dont do anything for the benefit of the game. FIFA generated $4.8Bil USD out of Brazil 2014. When the RLWC has that kind of leverage over the NRL, then you will have your international window.

        • Roar Guru

          January 18th 2018 @ 11:29am
          Nat said | January 18th 2018 @ 11:29am | ! Report

          Steve, we agree, I think. Who are you upset at though? If the RLIF are trying to work with the NRL, ARL, NZRL, ESL et al… in promoting the game but the NRL have made little/no attempt in pulling the clubs into line, of course the clubs will exercise their right to examine the potential impact/loss to their best players. It is the tail wagging the dog but the dog is allowing it too because there is little incentive or rules to stop it.

      • Roar Rookie

        January 19th 2018 @ 5:51pm
        Hez said | January 19th 2018 @ 5:51pm | ! Report

        Pretty interested in the NFL athletes not quite at NFL level to have a look in. Saying that the Ozzie $$ would be a major turn off.

    • January 17th 2018 @ 11:54am
      Gurudoright said | January 17th 2018 @ 11:54am | ! Report

      How’s that independent commission going? Wasn’t it meant to fix everything in Rugby League once it took over from News/ARL? All I see is the clubs looking after the clubs and nothing else

      • January 17th 2018 @ 12:02pm
        mushi said | January 17th 2018 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

        Well to be fair anyone that paid even passing attention to the governance structure could see that coming from when it was first proposed.