Cultural opportunities: The RFL has got it right by taking England to Rochdale in October

Rugby League administrators have their fair share of critics inside and out of the sport.

But with one announcement last week they struck the perfect chord.

Taking England’s final pre-World Cup warm-up game with Fiji to Rochdale’s Crown Oil Arena was an inspired decision that brings together history, culture and opportunity for everyone involved.

The Fiji team will certainly provide perfect opposition for Shaun Wane’s men ahead of their opener with Samoa in Newcastle eight days later.

But taking the match to the Bati’s spiritual home to coincide with Rochdale Hornets’ 150th anniversary celebrations was one of those moments where the Rugby League planets aligned, in a move that should pay rich dividends.

Rochdale and Fiji’s association dates back to the arrival of trailblazing players from the Pacific nation at Hornets in the 1960s, with the country’s second biggest expatriate community behind London continuing to live in the town.

When what was then Spotland hosted Fiji versus Ireland at the 2013 World Cup, the game sold out, and provided a host of unforgettable memories, including community hymns being sung in the stands.

The link remains with Joe Taira in Hornets’ squad for the 2021 season, and now their Chairman Andy Mazey wants to maximise the potential of the October 15 event.

“It’s not just about sport, it’s cultural as well,” Mazey explained.

“One of the big things that attracted us to this club was its history and heritage, and we were well aware of the Fijian connection.

“We didn’t want to just give it a nod and a wink, we wanted to build on it, and really take that forward into the future.

“This is a catalyst for us as a club.

“With Shaun agreeing to bring his team here and the Fijian guys agreeing to come over, we have to utilise this as an opportunity for the sport of Rugby League as well as Rochdale Hornets.

“We’ve got a duty to grow this sport, and the profile of Shaun and his team coming, and all the NRL stars, that is our opportunity to get the children and community engaged.

“We’re not going to miss this opportunity; we’re really going to drive hard.

“We’ve looked at how we can grow this sport on the town; we’re a League 1 team at the moment with ambitions to be higher up the pyramid.

“But we need to be able to get out into the schools and into the community and really grow the fanbase.

“To have England and the profile of some of the players from both teams is, in my eyes, going to give us some bump in the community, and make people aware of Rugby League who might otherwise not be.

“It’s a profile that we are really look forward to maximising.”

Mazey reports that early ticket sales – initially limited to 2,000 until any Covid restrictions for October become clearer later in the year – have been hugely encouraging, and that the club is focused on ensuring a memorable event.

“There’s a project team that worked really hard to deliver this, and our community foundation will be vital in engaging those schools and promoting this game to younger people,” the Chairman added.

“We also have some big plans through our board of directors and are mobilising on marketing.

“As it stands at the moment we’ve got a limited number of tickets, but we’re confident and hopeful that the capacity will increase.

“The vision has to be to have as many young people as possible in that stadium seeing those stars, and ultimately going away with a Rochdale Hornets season ticket and wanting to come back and see Rugby League every week.

“This is a massive town and borough within its own right; there’s no other Rugby League club within this borough and we firmly believe there’s a lot of potential here.

“We thought all the building blocks were in place to have a successful Rugby League club that can add value to the sport.

“It’s about being relevant, and this game and event gives us an opportunity to prove that Rochdale is relevant in Rugby League.

“That’s the intention. We can’t let this pass us by, so we will go out and market it and the Council are fully energised by it.

“We’re all excited by this and there’s a real enthusiasm to make this work, not just for Rochdale Hornets, but for Rochdale as a town and borough.”

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