It’s time to get tough with the Aussies!
Fair play to Jon Dutton for his bold confirmation that the World Cup will go ahead this year, despite the ongoing coronavirus concerns and the lack of certainty that the holders will defend their title.
Hopefully the tournament chief executive’s confidence in the participation of Australia translates to Peter V’landys agreeing to get on board this Autumn.
As Chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission, he holds the key to ensuring NRL clubs play ball when it comes to releasing players for the tournament, which, barring another plunge into restrictions, will take place in front of full grounds.
We all know the lack of respect those clubs give the international game, and I suspect they wouldn’t be at all worried if the Kangaroos pulled out of the World Cup, citing uncertainty and worries over the situation with Covid and the need to isolate on returning.
Of course they will also be unhappy at the prospect of their star players taking part in matches on the other side of the world, risking injury and perhaps having less of a break and starting next year’s pre-season later than those who aren’t selected for international teams.
Rising new cases in both Australia and the UK won’t be helping, and neither will the number of Super League matches that have recently been postponed or cancelled due to Covid issues.
While pointing to the completion of football’s European Championships and the tennis at Wimbledon in recent weeks, Mr Dutton has admitted there is still “work to be done” to ensure the Aussies will arrive in October.
It could well be a case of trying to crank up the pressure on the NRL clubs, and while it’s a gamble, he had to jump one way or the other, because we’re only three months away from that opening game between England at Samoa at St James’ Park.
One thing is in Mr Dutton’s favour, because I’m certain the Australian players will be very keen to take part.
After all, the World Cup is the sport’s biggest title, and there aren’t that many chances to play in one.
It’s crucial that Australia are involved, because they are the holders and the best team on the planet.
A World Cup without them is unthinkable, and for John Kear to say it would not be “detrimental at all” if they didn’t send their strongest squad is sugar-coating in the extreme in my opinion.
Let’s not forget that if the NRL clubs decide to be awkward, it could also have a fairly major knock-on effect on Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga, who all made the quarter-finals in 2017 and if they can field their best players, will probably be even stronger this time.
This is being flagged up as the biggest and best-ever Rugby League World Cup, and given the excellent efforts of the excellent Mr Dutton and his team to get this far, I really hope it is.
But if we can’t watch the world’s best players, it simply can’t be the best-ever tournament, and for the future health of our game, that’s what we badly need it to be.
It’s a great chance to attract new followers – and just as crucially, new players – and to do that, we need the top players to put on a show.
Quite simply, there’s no way the Aussies should be dictating to the rest of the Rugby League world.
I think we should give them a ‘helping hand’ by telling them if they don’t send their strongest possible squad to this World Cup, they will be banned from the next two tournaments.
Maroons fight back
I really enjoyed the third State of Origin match, which was a reminder, if we needed one and if Australia do take part in the World Cup, just how difficult a side they will be to overcome.
It was a great game of flowing rugby, and while some called it a dead rubber, given New South Wales’ success in the first two clashes, with the professionalism and quality of the players involved, it was never going to be that way.
It was full-throttle fare, and the desire to win was shown by the battle between the Blues’ Latrell Mitchell and the Maroons’ Dane Gagai, who are, of course, team-mates at South Sydney.
Mitchell is a cracking player, and he forms such a potent partnership with Tom Trbojevic.
Okay, New South Wales missed Jarome Luai and his Penrith buddy Nathan Cleary, but they still put up a real fight.
Queensland deserved their success, and I loved the performance of Cameron Munster and the injection of pace provided by Kalyn Ponga.
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