GREAT BRITAIN could visit Papua New Guinea and other Pacific nations on their relaunched tour in 2019, RFL chief executive Nigel Wood has confirmed.
Talks about the make-up of the trip – the first fully fledged tour since 1996 – have taken place during the current World Cup.
Papua New Guinea provided three sell-out crowds for the tournament in Port Moresby, and, with Tongan fans flocking to their matches in New Zealand, Wood confirmed the RFL has options beyond Australia.
Wood said: “The success of the Pacific island nations over the last five weeks has thrown up new opportunities.
“It’s important that the international game does its best to look after the Pacific nations, who provide options that possibly weren’t there twelve months ago.
“I think Papua New Guinea has been one of the great success stories and they’ve now got a facility that justifies international status.
“They’ve got some corporate sponsors that make it a much more viable prospect taking a side there. The energy behind it has to come from the southern hemisphere. We would be the visiting side and we need to know whose party we’re being invited to.
“We’re meeting the Australians later this week to see how they want to do it.”
Wood also confirmed that the planned Nines World Cup in 2019 would not impact on the Lions, and would instead be a weekend event, probably held before the tour.
And he added that the RFL has offered to enter a second-tier side into a new European competition next autumn while the New Zealand tour of England is taking place.
Wood said: “The RFL has volunteered to put an English side into a European Championship to add some quality and depth. We were asked, even though there is a Test series going on against New Zealand, to submit a side.
“We’ve got sufficient players to allow the next 20 best to be playing international Rugby League.”
With the World Cup now at a close, Wood, who is also Chairman of the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), has labelled the tournament a success and hopes the international game can draw more fans to the sport.
“I think it’s been stunning,” said Wood of the tournament. “There have been some wonderful images, with the emergence of the Pacific Island nations in particular.
“The crowds have turned up, the broadcast figures are great, the prominence with which the sport has received attention, in this part of the world and indeed in the UK, is significant.
“This is international Rugby League and I am of a strong belief that the way any sport grows is off the back of international competition. We all have our local rivalries, whether it’s Hull versus Hull KR, Queensland versus New South Wales or Leigh Miners versus Leigh East. They’re all alright, but the thing that draws new eyeballs is when England play Australia.
“Hopefully they get attracted to the sport, they watch the sport and some people stay in the sport. That’s the kind of formula that international Rugby League is seeking to deliver on behalf of everybody.”
With the success of the 2017 tournament, Wood is already optimistic about the 2021 World Cup, which is to be hosted in the UK, and its potential for profit. “It’s all about money and we have to make sure that the world tournaments fund international Rugby League,” he added.
However, Wood is unsure that the RLIF would be able to help the Tier 2 nations in their ambition to fund their players at the same rate as Australia, England and New Zealand.
“I’m not sure what role the International Federation has there,” he explained. “In every other sport, the individual national federations decide how much they want to remunerate their players. It’s not a great communist planned economy, where everyone is on the same rate of pay.
“But it is a legitimate discussion, because some of the disparities are bigger than they ought to be. That’s a significant conversation that the federation might seek to have with its nations.
“Perhaps we need to set a minimum and look, if we can, as to which nations are financially supported in the tournaments. The participation agreement for all 14 nations is identical and there isn’t a differential. But what is different is the affordability of the individual nations to top up those payments to players.
“That’s the thing that has captured the attention. The Federation is aware of that, but there is a limit to what we can do.”