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Opinion

Lack of international rugby league a missed opportunity

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Expert
22nd June, 2021
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If you are a rugby league tragic like me, it might be time to think about some alternative activities this weekend, because the schedule is a little bit light on.

On Friday night we have women’s under 19s State of Origin, followed by women’s State of Origin.

There is no top-tier rugby league being played in Australia on Saturday.

Then on Sunday there is New South Wales Police playing against Queensland Police followed by the men’s State of Origin fixture in the evening from Suncorp Stadium.

With this round being designated as a bye round for all clubs, I can’t help but feel like the NRL has missed a real opportunity with its scheduling.

Why isn’t there any international rugby league being played this weekend?

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Fans commonly complain about the impact Origin has on the regular season, but with no club matches this weekend, it was a great opportunity to host some Pacific Tests.

Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the international game was beginning to shine. Real and genuine excitement seemed to be growing.

In 2019, the Papua New Guinea Orchids registered their first ever international win, defeating the England women’s team. The teams for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup were decided, including some exciting prospects like the Brazilian women’s team and the Greek men’s team. There was also an international nines tournament in Sydney in November featuring teams from across the globe.

Then, of course, there was that moment in November when Tonga beat the reigning men’s world champions, Australia.

That was an extremely exciting moment in the international game, even for me. While I love to see Australia victorious, winning when there is no viable competition can get boring. It finally looked as though that was changing.

Damien Cook

Damien Cook of Australia (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Then, after plenty of chatter about Sonny Bill Williams signing with the Toronto Wolfpack and the upcoming Super League season, a pandemic struck and progress halted.

Since then, there has been limited opportunity to play internationals and while countries seem to be making progress in the development of their own national competitions – including the recent news about the North American Rugby League, which will feature two conferences in 2021 with 14 founding members – excitement around the international game has dissipated.

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Governing bodies seem to have put it in the ‘too hard’ basket.

It would be easy to blame the ongoing COVID situation, particularly given what has transpired in Sydney this week, but the decision to not go ahead with the Pacific Tests was made well before the most recent outbreak.

You may also be forgiven for asking how we are meant to play international games when limited international travel is allowed.

That may be a fair point, except the majority of players who would play for the Pacific nations are based here in Australia.

When you consider who played for Tonga in that 2019 match, Jason Taumalolo, Tevita Pangai Junior, Andrew Fifita and Kotoni Staggs remain available.

The Kaiviti Silktails made the decision earlier this year to relocate from Fiji to Sydney for the 2021 NSW Rugby League season, and many women eligible to play for their home nations have not been selected for Origin.

But instead, there is no international presence this weekend.

Three years ago, there was a period in the middle of the season that allowed a Test match to be played in Denver. Granted ome clubs and players were opposed to the USA game, but despite pushback it went ahead.

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Now we are at a point where club footy and Origin appear to have priority and there is no consideration as to how Australia can play a role in growing the game across the globe.

This is a missed opportunity and extremely short-sighted.

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In a year where there’s a lot of negativity about the game and, in particular, the quality of competition in the NRL, there would have been nothing better than hearing a Fijian hymn, seeing the Tonga flag waving brightly in the air and some of our most talented players running out for their home nations.

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To add to the disappointment is the stone-cold silence about the upcoming World Cup, due to be played from 23 October to 27 November in the United Kingdom.

While the organising committee are certain to push ahead, the lack of talk about it here in Australia is beginning to worry me.

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