The Australian Kangaroos are one of the country’s most successful teams.
Their brand is synonymous with excellence, professionalism and advancing rugby league through outrageous skill.
But ever since the 2017 World Cup final in Brisbane, they’ve played four Test matches. Until they play regular Tests, they will continue to be the chocolate syrup on your ice cream: seldom seen but fun while they lasted. This will probably get pushed out now that the World Cup is confirmed for 2022.
The most recent crop of NRL stars like Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell and Damien Cook may struggle to build long Test careers like 30-plus gamers Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith or Greg Inglis.
Internationally, no one really cares about how many State of Origin games you’ve racked up.
But ask a passionate rugby league fan in Leeds, and they will tell you how Mel Meninga tore the Lions to shreds in 1992 or how influential Darren Lockyer was in the 2011 Four Nations.
So, what are some solutions so that the Kangaroos brand doesn’t die (it is already going that way apart from a small group of passionate internationalists) and we don’t have an AFL situation where the sport only exists in one country?
First of all, we need the ARLC to commit to the calendar that International Rugby League has built.
Yes, we actually have a calendar of events. But it is hard to find.
Go on the International RUgby League website and there is nothing selectable beyond 2021.
But go into the competitions tab, and the fixtures have been laid out.
This is what we have over the next few years:
2021: Oceania Cup, held every two years in between World Cups. Asia-Pacific Federation featuring Australia, New Zealand and Tonga, with Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa playing in the second-tier competition). Three Tests.
2022: World Cup (UK). Six to eight Tests.
2023: Ashes series (GB vs Australia). Three Tests. European Cup, MEA Cup and Americas Cup. Rugby league 9s (traditionally held every fourth year, two years after the World Cup. Featuring Aus, NZ, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, PNG, Cook Islands, France, England, Wales, Lebanon and USA). Oceania Cup (Aus, New Zealand + Tonga, Samoa, PNG and Fiji). Three Tests.
2025: World Cup. Featuring Aus, NZ, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, PNG, France and England, plus qualifiers from Europe, Middle-East and Americas). Six Tests.
2027: Rugby league 9s and Oceania Cup. Featuring top-ranked nations plus the top qualifier from the second-tier competition.
2029: World Cup.
What stands out for you when you read the above?
Consistency. We need regular fixtures that players, coaches and fans can look forward to.
There is plenty of promise and a lot of strategic plans, but unless we, as fans, can see a regular schedule of events, we will continue to have governing bodies that choose to stay within their self-interests.
Give us a plan and then have the confidence to stick to it. World Rugby has its fixtures confirmed until 2023.
Part of the reason why State of Origin has been so successful is that players and fans all know that there will be three matches every year without fail.
No cancelling or postponing.
That has allowed the product to build lustre and esteem. Sponsors then come on board and it builds a more attractive commercial product. Eligible players also aspire to be part of the event because it has such a grand stage.
So, for us fans that see rugby league as broader than the NRL, let’s continue to call for regular fixtures so we can see our countries play Test matches.
The NRL (read, the ARLC) has also got to commit to the calendar above.
The Kangaroos need 17 players to field a team and maybe 25-30 to tour. That’s the same as New South Wales and Queensland playing in Origin.
And yes, the NRL doesn’t have a directive to grow the game internationally. They need to look after their product (the NRL competition, State of Origin and the grand final).
Hopefully, they can concede that the games’ elite players need regular opportunities to play for their country, which also drives up their market value and quenches their thirst for being the best players they can be.