The Denver Test between New Zealand and England has come under scrutiny for various reasons. There is one issue, however, that has not been as well publicised.

Sunday morning’s match, which is the first game in a three-year deal between the two nations, aims to promote international rugby league within the North American market. With the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) set to descend upon USA and Canada in 2025, the Test has been identified by its promoter Jason Moore as the ideal way to expand interest in the event.

Recently, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg, along with South Sydney CEO Blake Solly and RLPA boss Ian Prendergast, signed a letter expressing their concerns over the future of the Test if it remained in June.

However, there is another demand that Greenberg should be making if he is serious about using Mile High Stadium as the new stage for showcasing rugby league in the North American market: the inclusion of Pacific nations.

Last year’s RLWC was a roaring success when it came to crowd numbers and television ratings. It silenced many doubters who questioned whether international rugby league was still relevant.

The reason for this, however, was not the local Kangaroos, who claimed their 11th international title. Nor was it the result of the success experienced by Australia’s grand final opponents, England.

Rather, the interest in last year’s World Cup was inspired by the rise and passion of the nations from the Pacific Islands such as Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Tonga

(NRLPhotos/Fional Goodall)

It is their intensity and raw passion for the game that should be advertised to the potential supporter base in North America. After all, it is the new centrepiece of international rugby league.

In last year’s RLWC, the battle between Tonga and Samoa in Hamilton in New Zealand dominated MediaWeek’s Social Content Ratings with over 107,000 interactions.

In contrast, Australia’s opener with England generated over 46,000 interactions.

The online interest in the game began before the game even started, with viewers captivated by the traditional hymns and war dances that preceded the official kick-off.

Equally touching was Fijian captain Kevin Naiqama’s tears as he sung his national anthem ‘Meda Dau Doka’ (God Bless Fiji) in their quarter-final against New Zealand.

Fiji

(NRLPhotos)

The emotion transferred onto the football field, with Fiji pulling off a stunning 4-2 upset victory over the Kiwis.

It was the first time in 22 years that a Tier 2 nation had beaten a Tier 1 team in the World Cup.

The changing of eligibility rules also aided the rise of the smaller island nations, with Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo’s newfound Tongan allegiance being the most notable example.

Both sacrificed a pay rise to commit to Tonga over Australia and New Zealand respectively. This choice speaks to the great honour associated with representing Pacific nations at the international level.

On the other hand, New Zealand coach Michael Maguire has been able to scrape together a 19-man squad for the inaugural match, with seven uncapped Kiwis and five Pacific Island representatives selected. While several players withdrew due to injury, early signs indicate that the Denver Test could be the new City versus Country clash, with concerns over player welfare diminishing enthusiasm for the game.

That issue may be solved if the Test is shifted away from June to a quieter period in the rugby league calendar. Regardless, short of financial incentives, there is no guarantee that players from New Zealand and England will continue to support the initiative.

If we are adamant on selling rugby league in North America, the product we send must be the best.

The sport’s emotion and passion is its most valuable asset. The triumph of the Pacific nations in last year’s World Cup proved the game is at its best when the jersey means something special to those wearing it.

And nowhere does it mean more than in the Pacific islands.

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The Crowd Says (29)

  • Roar Guru

    June 19th 2018 @ 6:32am
    BA Sports said | June 19th 2018 @ 6:32am | ! Report

    I get your point, but to the uninitiated, Papua New Guinea vs Fiji isn’t going to draw a lot of american eyes and would sound to them like we are not sending the best. At least England v New Zealand sounds like it might be some of the better teams and draw in some curious spectators and viewers – even though England v NZ in London 2015 was the worst football match I have ever, ever seen.

    • Roar Guru

      June 19th 2018 @ 9:59am
      Mr X said | June 19th 2018 @ 9:59am | ! Report

      I also get your point BA, but given that the World Cup is heading there in 2025 surely it makes sense to give the Pacific nations some exposure in North America for that reason as well as the ones mentioned in the article. Also I would still be fine with New Zealand or England staying in the Test but including at least 1 Pacific nation every year.

      • Roar Guru

        June 19th 2018 @ 1:48pm
        BA Sports said | June 19th 2018 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

        Fair point . They could have run out Tonga v Samoa as part of a double header or something..

  • June 19th 2018 @ 8:12am
    Paul said | June 19th 2018 @ 8:12am | ! Report

    The Americans know where England is and have a vague idea about some island down south named Australia. They’d little or no idea about New Guinea and Samoa for example (let’s face it, most Australians wouldn’t either).

    Let’s see what the reaction is to this first game before getting too carried away. It’s only 2018 and this is a build up to a tournament being played in 2025. Plenty of time to get more sides involved if that helps promote the game.

    It actually makes more sense to take a “Magic Weekend” round to Canada which is a co-host for the RLWC, than it does to play it in Brisbane. If not all 8 games, then at least a double header.

    • Roar Guru

      June 19th 2018 @ 10:02am
      Mr X said | June 19th 2018 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      Well we have to start somewhere Paul – after all they will be in the 2025 World Cup so they might as well learn where these nations are as soon as possible. I agree to wait until after this year’s Test but I think for the test to work in the future, inclusion of Pacific nations will be needed to give it extra spark and meaning.

      Don’t know about taking the Magic Weekend to Canada at the moment. I think if it gets taken anywhere, as stated by several before, regional Australia is the place to go.

      • June 19th 2018 @ 12:13pm
        Paul said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

        My Magic Weekend in Canada idea was slightly different from the one that will play out in Brisbane.

        The English Super League had the courage to bring proper competition games to Australia and I thought that was a great success. Why not have two games from the NRL and English League on a Friday & Saturday in March. You could maybe have Tests at the end of the season.

        Now that would be a Magic Weekend.

        • Roar Guru

          June 19th 2018 @ 1:35pm
          Riley Pettigrew said | June 19th 2018 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

          I think that could just work, depending on how Souths vs Broncos/Storm goes next year. Round zero could have slowly expand from Los Angeles to Honolulu, Vancouver, Denver or even Mexico City (Mexico might join as co-hosts as a trial-run for the 2026 FIFA World Cup).

    • June 20th 2018 @ 4:08pm
      terrence said | June 20th 2018 @ 4:08pm | ! Report

      most americans probably know more about samoa than nz..40 nfl players are samoan, the rock is samoan a superstar and a phenomenon in america and there’s a little american territory in the pacific called american samoa..besides samoans are patriotic people and will flood to the stadium to watch their team play..tongans too

  • June 19th 2018 @ 11:02am
    lesterlike said | June 19th 2018 @ 11:02am | ! Report

    Samoa vs Tonga in Honolulu would be something worth trying imo next year imo.

    • June 19th 2018 @ 12:39pm
      woodart said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

      best idea on here lester

    • June 20th 2018 @ 6:28pm
      no one in particular said | June 20th 2018 @ 6:28pm | ! Report

      Why Honolulu? What happens in Hawaii doesn’t register on the mainland.

  • June 19th 2018 @ 12:45pm
    Geoff Dustby said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

    so far off the mark, you are in love with the pacific islands. or more correctly, in love with teams that were born in australia and NZ but represent two tiny little islands that americans could never find on a map. to suggest they had more passion is laughable

    • Roar Guru

      June 19th 2018 @ 1:04pm
      Mr X said | June 19th 2018 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

      Okay maybe they don’t know about some of the Pacific nations… that aids my point. It is time that the find out about them. They are going to in 2025 regardless.

      So you think that Australia and NZ national teams have more passion than those from Pacific nations? I would like to see how you can back that up because the World Cup last year said otherwise.

      • June 20th 2018 @ 6:25am
        Geoff Dustby said | June 20th 2018 @ 6:25am | ! Report

        dont flip it, i never said that. you claimed the PI had more. americans are going to be really interested in Tonga

        • Roar Guru

          June 20th 2018 @ 6:55am
          Mr X said | June 20th 2018 @ 6:55am | ! Report

          Well who do you suggests has more passion than them? By saying they don’t have the most passion implies someone else has more?

    • June 19th 2018 @ 3:56pm
      woodart said | June 19th 2018 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

      most residents of hawaii are well aware of where tonga and samoa are.

  • Roar Guru

    June 19th 2018 @ 1:31pm
    Riley Pettigrew said | June 19th 2018 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

    Really nice write-up AJ. I don’t think New Zealand will return in 2020 and expect Tonga to take their place. Americans love an underdog and there is a pretty significant Islander population in parts of the US.

    If New Zealand want to stick around, something that could work is having New Zealand vs Tonga in Denver and England vs Samoa in Vancouver. Rotate the Colonial Cup as curtain-raiser each year.

    Somewhere where MSI can get in on the action with rugby league is public holidays. I’ve been saying this for a while but an Ireland vs USA test would do wonders. Philadelphia or Boston would chomp at the bit for such a game. Same applys for playing the Colonial Cup on July 1 (Canada Day) and July 4 (Independence Day) each year. Create interest for the national team by working around public holidays and national pride.

    Samoa and Tonga have been playing an annual test in Honolulu for a few years. If MSI could lure the first teams, that would be a huge coup and make the event even more of a success. Hawaii is an easy market to convert into a rugby league heartland. Ready made stadium, big Islander population and little competition from other sports.

    • Roar Guru

      June 19th 2018 @ 2:23pm
      Mr X said | June 19th 2018 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

      Cheers Riley. You and Paul definitely seem to be onto something and I certainly know you are an expert when it comes to the expansion of league and everything you have said here makes sense. As you’ve said, it doesn’t have to stick to just 2 teams. The inclusion of the Pacific island nations into the test from my perspective was not for them to replace NZ and England. Rather, for them to be included in any form in American expansion, hopefully starting next year.

      • June 20th 2018 @ 6:26am
        Geoff Dustby said | June 20th 2018 @ 6:26am | ! Report

        onto something? because they agree with you?

        • Roar Guru

          June 20th 2018 @ 6:59am
          Mr X said | June 20th 2018 @ 6:59am | ! Report

          Everything that Riley said made sense and is well-supported – something I can’t exactly say for the comments you have written so far.

  • June 20th 2018 @ 4:05pm
    Big daddy said | June 20th 2018 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

    Let’s get past 2021 first.
    Bit too early promoting the cup.
    Probably more appropriate a bit closer to 2025

    • Roar Guru

      June 20th 2018 @ 4:20pm
      Mr X said | June 20th 2018 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

      True but I am just concerned about the lack of enthusiasm, particularly from the NZ camp. I am sure that the Pacific island nations would greatly appreciate the chance to promote themselves on a world stage and this would provide the perfect opportunity.

      • June 20th 2018 @ 6:33pm
        Big daddy said | June 20th 2018 @ 6:33pm | ! Report

        Trouble is most of these players won’t be around in 2025.
        If they want to sell the concept that’s fine.
        If the object of the exercise is to get rugby league established that’s ok but maybe an NRL match might be more values.

        • Roar Guru

          June 20th 2018 @ 6:45pm
          Mr X said | June 20th 2018 @ 6:45pm | ! Report

          Look that is a fair point actually. I definitely take that on board. Still think that the passion that is played in Test games between the Pacific nations needs to be spread more on an international scale. It is just such a special sight and speaking for myself, I always looked forward to the Pacific games last year more than Australia vs England, for example, for this reason.

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