First of all, just let me just state that I am super keen to hear there is talk of a possible Euro 13 club competition and I really do hope its successful. But I feel they are digging for copper when they could be digging for gold.
The Polish (insert European nation) National team run out into their first RLWC. Their team is not full of Australians, Kiwis, or English men but locals from Polish towns and cities. They are not strangers from scattered clubs but teammates who have played close to 80 games together since the last world cup cycle began and they know each other's game inside out. Other nations may be more professional, may have more history in the game, or may have more money invested into their stars but no other teams are as well prepared as the Euro 13 nations because no other teams play their season as a national side, together.
They are professionals. They are fit, they are strong and they are at their physical peak because it's their job to be. Players won't be sitting out games for end of season surgery due to niggling injuries and their clubs won't be standing them down from games. The Polish National Rugby League pays their contract, not a club, and their season isn't over until the last international game is played.
They have one goal. It's not winning club premierships or a state series. Their job is to win international matches and the pinnacle of international Rugby League is the world cup. And the best thing about them? there are nine more nations just like them.
These are some more reasons the Euro 13s should be a national competition, not a club competition.
1: A National team has a broader appeal.
Why hamstring yourself by confining your team to the supporter base of one city or town? It is hard enough to get people interested in a game they have never heard of as it is. At least with a national team playing an entire season, you have national pride as a motivation to get people interested.
You have no language barrier issues with teammates and coaching staff, you have no expenses or hassles of players relocating their family to a different country. How many players would do that for a semi-professional contract anyway?
You representing an entire nation, so your home games can be anywhere in the country. Over a season you can figure out where the fish are biting and play in areas that will maximize your crowds with out reloacation a franchise. You can attract more fans and sponsors if your brand is national playing in an international competition and it is far more likely a government will release sporting funds to a national sporting body than a privately owned club.
2: The Fist 13 format
Now imagine if the Euro 13s started with a First 13 but as the years went on if the competition gained momentum, they could add a Second 13 or even a Third 13. Reserve grades in other words.
Now let us say your top 20 players are contracted. Semi-professional at first, but as time goes on if the brand grows bigger and sponsorship is found they may become full-time professionals.
On game day the form top 17 players play for the First 13, the rest go into the 2nds/3rds with the amateurs playing for match payments who have forced their way into the national squads by playing good rugby league in the club competition.
Using this method teams are not restricted to a set amount of players during the season. Any player who has rolled up to his local amateur club and shown some talent can push their way into the national First 13 and end up with a professional contract. In other words, a Euro 13 national side will always be able to put out its best side available excluding injuries, blood new talent, or bring young players through. Unlike a club, they are not restricted to a set amount of players. A National team therefore represent and encourages a larger player base.
3: The Power needs to be with the National body, not the clubs.
Are the clubs going to establish a woman's competition, schoolboy competitions, a national academy, or an under 20s competition to create player pathways? Are they going to support International and representative football and expansion clubs? History would suggest not.
Without throwing stones I will use the Toronto Wolfpack as an example. They are not in the business of creating international squads or schoolboy competitions because that is not their job as a professional Rugby League club. Their job is to win premierships and to do so means they need to sign the best players. They have done a fantastic job of exposing the Canadian public to the sport of Rugby League. They have an important place in our game, but how much has the national team improved since their arrival? One could argue not at all.
How many times have we seen it in the past where a club has made a player unavailable for representative duties and strangled the international game. Just look back to Lebanon in the mid-season test last year when a group of players who made themselves available suddenly withdrew. They were not injured they played for their club the week before and the week after. It was just that the clubs who paid their wage did not want to risk them on an international. We saw it again with New Zealand during the Denver Test and a thousand more times over the years with any nation that wasn't Australia or England.
The clubs don't have the best interest of the game in mind. The cutthroat nature of club competition means they are only interested in themselves. Do you think if the NRL was not a rich powerful organization that provides funding that the clubs would be happy to release players midseason to play State of Origin? It wouldn't matter that State of Origin is the highest rating TV program every season and is a massive benefit to the game If clubs had the option to not risk injury or fatigue to their best players than they would take that option because it would give them have a better chance of winning the premiership.
To have the Clubs as the major power in an emerging nation is to slow the development process of that nation down to a level the clubs are comfortable with. What will happen will always be best for the clubs, not the game.
If the number one Rugby League brand is the national side then all the sponsorship, support, and any profit go toward the national sporting body. There they can grow the game because that is their job.
4: Rugby League needs a greater International presence
At the moment you around 10 nations that can field teams full of professionals. We will call them the club affiliated nations who can produce an entire national squad of NRL, SuperLeague, or lower-level professional players. Australia, New Zealand, England, Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji on a good day produce squads of fulltime professionals whereas PNG, France, Lebanon, and to a higher extent Wales fill gaps with semi-professionals or amateurs.
If a Euro 13s competition was national teams you could double the number of international teams full of professional or semi-professional players. In maybe 10 or 20 years they would develop to become very competitive if not dominant nations. Suddenly nations like Australia would be forced to take internationals very seriously.
The fact they are not heritage teams (which do work well with some nations but not all) adds a massive amount of esteem and credibility to rugby league international competition.
Only tradition and geography dictates that a club competition be the long term annual contest for Rugby League. The NRL and Superleague have clubs that have existed for a hundred years. Australia is geographically isolated from any nation with a club competition of similar power. So the NRL and Superleague are logical for those particular nations involved.
This isn't the case though in a place like Europe where they have 44 nations huddled together many sharing a border with multiple nations. With the exception of Great Britain and France, all have next to no history in the game and are on a similar development level.
5: A loose plan as to how it could be done?
A: Talk to the owners of the clubs involved in the proposed Euro 13s. Present them with the proposal of merging with the national rugby league sporting body of that particular nation and having their brand be the First 13 rather than a club brand. Choose 10 nations to make the Euro 13s. Possibly start with both a men's and women's competitions.
B: Find the best 20 players and offer them a semi-professional contract.
C :The first season, semi-professional national teams play each other once while amateur club teams also play a minor local competition. Play a semi-final and grand final. If/when injuries occur form players from the club competition go into the national team on match payments.
D : Season two. Euro 13 teams play each other twice home and away for 18 rounds with a semi-final and grand final.
E: Season three. A Second 13s team is added as a reserve grade to the Euro 13s. Form players from the amateur club competition are promoted to National 2nds and are a ready-made reserve grade for the First 13.
F: If funds are available, full professional contracts are offered.
G: If player numbers are available, expand to a Third 13s grade. Club teams remain amateur while Firsts and Seconds 13s teams become professional and the Third 13 become Semi-Professional.
You get the idea. As time goes on you could have a very successful 3 tier competition and at the end of the season you would end up with 10 fully professional national sides to play tournaments, tours, and RLWCs against the club affiliated nations. I think that would give more to the game of Rugby League than another club competition which would be competition for the NRL and Superleague.