Enough is enough. It’s time the ignorance stopped and the international game is given the full attention of the RLIF, RFL and NRL because if we don’t grow the game on an international stage then it won’t grow whatsoever.
The basis for successful team sports is the international stage on which it is performed. You only have to look at our neighbours in the dreaded ‘other code’ to see this. International rugby union is huge. As league fans we may not agree with those who are hooked by it and no matter how blue in the face we turn arguing that our code is superior, the fact is that on an international stage we are Sunday league football and they are the Premier League.
Rugby Union’s main pull is the opportunity to test yourself on an international stage in a hugely competitive environment in which any number of teams could be the best on the day. Samoa may have challenged the top three in the four nations but there is no escaping that outside the top three nations we have very few competitive opponents.
The row of club vs country in football is one that rumbles on throughout the year however there is no escaping the fact that the biggest tournament in football is the World Cup, of course contested by international sides. There is a lot more money in the domestic game but the international game is one of the foundations in which football was built and why it is a success in this country.
Even cricket has a huge international audience, the Ashes being the prime example in this country with fans who don’t normally watch the game cheering on their country to overcome their fierce rivals. I can guarantee a lot more non-cricket fans got up early to watch the Ashes down under (at least the first few tests anyway) than the number of non-league fans who did the same for our four nations campaign.
The success of these sports in this country combined with the importance of their international game is anything but a coincidence. So why can’t our rugby league organisations see this?
There is no reason why our international game cannot grow substantially in the next ten years, and I will tell you why.
More people in the UK watch domestic rugby league on TV than they do domestic rugby union. There may be more competitive nations in union than league however there is no reason why this cannot change over time. The only way we can do this is by pumping money into the international game and giving it some exposure, the kind of exposure the European Championships should have been given but were refused.
Also we need to have more international fixtures played in the course of the year, the fact that the third best nation in the world went into the four nations with their last game nearly a year before hand in the world cup is a disgrace. No matter who the opponents are they should be fulfilling a lot more fixtures than that in between tournaments.
The vast majority of rugby league fans who watch the game at a club level will also watch it on the international stage, there are very few who will watch one or the other and this is where we trump union. The difference between people who watch international union and club union however is substantial as the majority favour the international game. There are many reasons for that, most of which will be us league fans slating their game but that’s beside the point. The point is that we have a product which hooks and entices fans at a club level, so if we improve the standard of the international game to fall in line with the club game we will be well on the way to making our sport one of the most successful around.
The 2013 Rugby League World Cup was a massive success and made an estimated £4m in profit. It gave the international game a platform on which to build some success and grow the game, not only in the UK but worldwide. We had USA and Italy performing well to the surprise of everyone and we had one the best games of international league for a long time in the England vs New Zealand semi-final. 74,468 people packed into Old Trafford for the final between Australia and New Zealand and in doing so broke the international rugby league attendance record. All of these factors gave us the chance to build a lastly legacy which could take our game to the next level. We were promised a legacy and 12 months on we haven’t progressed as an international game much since.
So where did that profit go? Are the rugby league organisations sitting on it? Has it been wasted on other projects?
It should have been pumped straight back into the international game to help it grow. Emerging nations could have been strengthened. Television and sponsorship deals could have been secured. A full calendar of international games could have been scheduled to kick on from the world cup. None of this seems to have happened and right now no one seems to be in a hurry to make it happen.
We all harp on about it but no one is making a stand and improving the international game. Someone at the RLIF needs to stand up and make these decisions which are going to grow the game so that we can compete with the likes of rugby union.
The performance of Samoa at the four nations has ignited new belief and hope among the international game but if no one steps up and takes the game in the right direction then we will forever be in the shadow of international rugby union.
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