In his latest TotalRL.com column, English coach Alan Kilshaw breaks down the World Club Series and looks at the differences between Super League and the NRL.
Have some sympathy for a ‘Pom’ amongst Australians.
In the past two and a half years I have lived in Australia, England Cricket has collapsed and lost the Ashes in brutal fashion, there has been a Rugby League World Cup, which Australia beat England and went onto win.
A Four Nations, again England came close but the Aussies just beat us and most recently we have gone down 3-0 in the World Club Series. For a country who loves their sport and even more likes bragging about their sport, the close defeats like the stick I have taken have been hard to accept!
I really enjoyed the World Club Series and I am a big fan of the concept. We should develop this and hopefully we will see the top three teams playing each other in future.
Following the series the obsession to compare the two competitions has increased, and my answer to that would be they are both very good products but both very different formats of the game.
The NRL and Super League play the same sport but are very different.
There is lots of great skill and attacking play in the NRL but there is a predominately a defensive approach to the game.
Teams are looking to be error-free, their thought process is where they are going to finish their sets and turn the ball over to the opposition, field position and possession is key, teams will look to strangle each other until one eventually cracks.
Every NRL team hires a wrestling coach for new techniques on how to slow the opposition down and gain an edge in the ruck area. Generally, if you win the ruck you will the game and each team will focus heavily on this from week to week.
In contrast, Super League is a much more attacking game. The ruck is generally very clean, wrestling has been clamped down on and the games are very quick. It allows for expansive attack and teams are prepared to make mistakes, rules such as the “free play” have been brought into the game to encourage open, attacking play.
Super League needs to be attractive to watch, it has to capture the TV audience and keep the crowds coming as there are other sports it is going up against, including the biggest sporting competition in the world, the English Premier League.
The NRL does have rival sports with AFL, Super Rugby and the emergence of the A-League, but the NRL is shown on prime-time free-to-air TV on a Friday night. They have State Of Origin, which was the most watched TV event in Australia last year.
Yes, the Premier League is watched in Australia, but by the time it starts on a Saturday or Sunday most people are in bed and it won’t be up against the NRL, which takes centre stage.
Every NRL game is shown live each weekend with two to three live games on free-to-air TV and the remainder on pay TV.
The NRL will keep developing and tweaking their rules but the generally the game will stay the same. They already have a huge audience who like the sport for what it is, where as Super League needs to keep that excitement to retain and recruit new followers.
A little disappointing in the World Club Series was the rules the games were played under and the same questions rear their ugly head when it comes to the international game.
The games should have been officiated as a Super League game. If this had happened, the ruck would have been much faster and suited the Super League sides. If Super League sides go to Australia next season do you think they would play to Super League rules? No, the games would be played under the NRL interpretations.
We are very quick to criticize the game in the UK and compare ourselves with the NRL.
The main difference between the two is the volume of people playing the sport in Australia compared to England, more kids play Rugby League in Penrith than the whole of England and that is just one area of Sydney. There’s two massive states in Australia – NSW and Queensland – where Rugby League is the number one sport. As I eluded to before, England’s number one sport is football, so there is big competition for participation before they even get to an elite level.
Resources and facilities are generally better in Australia and they have two very strong second-tier competitions in the Queensland Cup and NSW Cup.
From my experiences in both countries I would argue that the junior coaching and coach education is much better in the UK. If you look at the participation numbers it needs to be in the UK, as we have to work much harder to develop players because we don’t have the luxury of two to three teams at each age group and each community side.
I think both competitions can learn a lot from each other and hopefully this World Club Series is the start of the game developing further on the international stage.
Which competition is better to watch? I would sit on the fence on that one, I enjoy watching them both.
Alan Kilshaw is the head coach of Sarina Crocodiles who play in the Mackay and District competition in North Queensland. He was formerly an assistant coach with the Mackay Cutters in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup. Previously, he served as an assistant coach to England’s Under-16 team and managed the Warrington Wolves’ Player Development Centre.