Opinion: International Rugby League is not dead

I don’t know why Rugby League has such a strong culture of self-criticism and introspection.

But we saw it again in the week leading up to the opening game of this year’s Four Nations campaign.

The main emphasis of the Rugby League media seemed to be the imminent departure from the code of Jarryd Hayne to American Football and Sam Burgess to rugby union.

Queensland coach Mal Meninga said he thought the Four Nations was a waste of time and should have been called off.

Articles appeared in several media outlets questioning the legitimacy of international Rugby League and questioning whether anyone was interested in it.

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So it made me wonder what on earth 47,813 people thought they were doing in turning up to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday to watch the opening double-header.

Had someone forgot to tell them that international Rugby League just doesn’t count for much?

Fortunately it seems that Rugby League fans the world over don’t read or listen to the mainstream media.

I watched both games on Saturday on television – the first on the BBC, and the second on Premier Sports, which ran with Channel 9’s coverage of the game between Australia and New Zealand.

The atmosphere in Suncorp Stadium looked tremendous, and it made me wish I had gone over there for the launch of the tournament.

The Samoan fans created a vibrant feeling during the England game, and the New Zealand supporters almost seemed to take over the stadium as their team ran away with the game against Australia in the second half.

On Thursday the Guardian newspaper published an article on its website entitled ‘Rugby league’s international failure is spectacular’.

So it was ironic that so many people turned up to the game.

In fact it is interesting to compare that attendance with the size of the crowd in the same stadium a week earlier, when Australia played New Zealand in rugby union’s Bledisloe Cup and a total of 45,186 spectators turned up, which was 2,627 fewer than turned up for the Rugby League internationals.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the Bledisloe Cup is a long established trophy that has traditionally drawn very big crowds. And yet it was beaten by an event that no one was supposed to be interested in.

And the Rugby League beat it on television too.

The Bledisloe Cup game was shown on free-to-air TV throughout Australia and drew an audience in the five capital cities (Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide) of 493,000.

The Rugby League game between Australia and New Zealand drew 691,000 viewers, and yet it was only on free-to-air in Sydney and Brisbane.

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And yet we still see many journalists writing to the effect that international Rugby League will never challenge international rugby union.

The fact is that in Australia at least, it has already overtaken it.

I just wish that more of our administrators had more faith in our international game.

For example, there wasn’t even a match programme for the double-header on Saturday.

Can you believe that?