France needs the World Cup … and the NRL too!

Rugby League World’s Treiziste Diarist Pierre Carcau offers a French perspective on the Australian NRL’s influence on Rugby League, following the postponement of this year’s World Cup to 2022.

The postponement of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup taught us one thing: How powerful the NRL is! Even if observers like myself knew how influential the Australian organisation was in Oceania, I would have never thought that Peter V’landys had, let’s say, this royal power of “veto” on International Rugby League events.

All right, not so explicitly, the Australian leader claimed to be acting in the interest of players’ welfare regarding the pandemic situation in England. Nevertheless, he has done some real damage in prompting the delay of what seemed to be a tournament on the right track to success in a sport which has yet to make any decisive media breakthrough on an international level.

Expansionists and “Internationalists” may now carry a grudge against the NRL. And that would be legitimate. On the social networks, a “boycott” of the NRL was even proposed.

But it would be a nonsense to boycott the Australians since international Rugby League remains an invisible code.

Indeed, despite the efforts made by stakeholders all over the world, Rugby League remains a regional code and it’s today almost impossible to get over that.

Even if the NRL has built a flourishing economic colonial empire, this empire doesn’t extend much beyond its own shores. And in Britain, the RFL have had a hard time going out of the heartlands despite a relative amount of recognition by the media and the government.

But, if you read Treiziste Diary regularly, you may suspect that France is in a worse situation.

Here the thirteen-a-side code needs to respect unwritten rules if it wants to get attention: to satisfy these rules, any Gallic national side needs to play regular international events and preferably win them. See the Olympics and how our media deal with our teams, you’ll understand right away.

The NRL pressure exerted on the Australian and New Zealand RL associations to withdraw from this year’s World Cup, essentially scuppering the tournament at least for another twelve months, indirectly prevented the French Rugby League team from taking advantage of this rare and unbeatable opportunity to play on a world stage.

Therefore, as a retaliation, should French people stop watching NRL games and unsubscribe from Beinsport, the Qatari owned pay-TV service which broadcasts the NRL matches here?

That would be a bad move for French Treizistes.

Believe it or not, the insular-leaning NRL does have a positive influence in France; unlike Super League or the domestic Elite 1, the Australian competition is easy to follow in this country. Much easier than any RL competitions organised on French soil to be honest.

Beinsport broadcast not only the NRL, but also the State of Origin series and other NRL sponsored games, such as the Indigenous Round.

French people (and among them the Parisian mainstream journalists, said to be the most influential) access these images and the remarkable display of skills and very talented players. The games are commentated by a talented duo: Rodolphe Pires and Louis Bonney, the most well-known French callers.

With NRL on a national, although paying, channel, it’s very difficult to completely sweep “Rugby à XIII” under the carpet and hope that no one will watch it, even by chance.

Nowadays, except of course the most biased rugby union traditionalists, every rugby connoisseur can’t ignore what’s happening in Australia in terms of level of play. French rugby union professionals even take inspiration from it.

But the main issue is that NRL don’t promote the televised material they send abroad. I’m not even sure that the NRL even know where they grant the television rights or which countries show it.

Interestingly, some suggested during the debate over the 2021 World Cup, that NRL should run the International Rugby League.

Well, in France I don’t think we would be so demanding!

If only the NRL could start supporting any kind of international activity that would already be a lot.

Presently the promotion of the NRL is made by… some Treizistes themselves or by foreign individuals.

You may remember the visit of the Sydney Roosters to Toulouse Olympique before the World Club Challenge?

Was it a promotional action sponsored by the NRL?

Not at all!

It was only made possible thanks to the connections of Trent Robinson in France and the good relations he has in the country.

But that is in Europe, far from Australia. So, let’s go to another part of the world.

Even in Oceania, does the NRL have a promotional policy towards nearby New Caledonia, the French territory which is even closer to Australia than New Zealand?

Not at all!

“Pacific XIII” may use NRL imagery to attract players but then again, that only relies on personal initiative and personal relations.

The NRL have shown their extraordinary power to interfere with International RL events, but why don’t they use that power and influence to promote the game, even if it’s just their own version of it?

I took the example of France but I’m sure that the NRL don’t do much more even in the homelands of their heritage players. I’d be glad to hear about some examples if any exist.

What is sure is that, in France, in terms of communication, the NRL remains the missing link between the otherwise far too regional “Rugby à XIII” and the French public. The sole one, since Super League preferred to increase the cost of its television rights and their only French based club, Catalans Dragons, are forced to pay the production costs of the games they want to show to their countrymen. Forgive me but one can’t seriously ask Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch to take the place of France Television and pay on the dot for all the major French RL events.

That missing link consists of a very exciting game, popular with the younger treizistes and easy to follow. Plus, it is covered by passionate people in France.

Of course, it will never replace a real international event but If only NRL could be more proactive in terms of international promotion, it could start cracking the glass ceiling of the French media hierarchy. And that could make expansionists forget, or forgive them at least, for inflicting a year of purgatory on the World Cup.