The World Cup and the media

MARTYN SADLER, the editor of League Express, suggests that Rugby League could do a lot to help itself get more coverage in the national media. This is a modified version of an article that appeared in this week’s newspaper.


After an initial surge of interest in the World Cup from the leading national newspapers, there was a clear decline in the amount of coverage of the tournament once it had actually started.
Inevitably those people who post on the forum are indignant about this, as they have a right to be.
It can be terribly frustrating banging our heads against a brick wall, hoping that the national media will give us a mention.
But sometimes it’s hard not to conclude that we do little to help ourselves. One example is that we allow coaches to dictate matters far too often in ways that deter interest from any national newspaper.
The Daily Telegraph sports supplement last Friday was a perfect example.
It contained several pages that covered England’s opening game against Australia in the autumn international rugby union tournament.
The biggest story was about Joel Tomkins, and whether his parents would head for Twickenham to watch him make his debut, or for Huddersfield to watch his brother Sam playing against Ireland.
As it happens, they did go to Twickenham, not surprisingly in the circumstances.
But the thing to bear in mind is that that story couldn’t have been written if one of the Tomkins brothers had been making his debut for England at Rugby League.
Why is that, you may ask?
Because in rugby union, a coach has to name his team on Thursday, two full days before the game. Stuart Lancaster had to name his team, and tell us which positions his players would occupy.
So the media knew that Joel was about to make his debut, and they could write reams and reams speculating about how it would all work out. There were photos of Joel and Sam together talking about the rugby union game.
But if the boot had been on the other foot, and it had been one of the brothers set to make his debut for England at Rugby League, the story couldn’t have been written, because the England team isn’t named until an hour before the kick-off.
Only the 19-man squad is named on Thursday, and, as often as not, it is named in alphabetical order.
It is no use at all if someone wants to write an article about a player who may or may not make his debut. The Daily Telegraph devoted about 25 words – its sum total of words on the World Cup that day – telling us that James Graham had been restored to the 19-man squad. But it couldn’t tell us that he would definitely be playing, because the only person who knew the answer to that question was the English coach Steve McNamara.
Again, this week is a perfect example of how the World Cup could miss a perfect opportunity to generate tremendous publicity.
On Saturday England will face Fiji at the KC Stadium.
England might have had the three Burgess brothers playing, and Fiji might have the three Sims brothers playing.
When was the last time this happened in a major international game?
As it happens, Tom Burgess has been left out of the 19-man England squad.
But if he had been included, we would only have known an hour before the game whether the six brothers would all be playing.
Wouldn’t it be better if, as in rugby union, the coaches were mandated to name their teams on Thursday, so that the media really would have something to get their teeth into, just like their rugby union counterparts?
When we complain about how much publicity the other code gets, let’s recognise that it does far more to help itself than we do.