Which is bigger – the World Cup or the NRL?

Talking Rugby League with League Express editor Martyn Sadler

Last week’s decision by the Australian Rugby League not to come to the World Cup, ostensibly on the grounds that the governing body is concerned for the health of its players, appeared at first to be a bodyblow for international Rugby League.

Many people have concluded that without the Aussies and Kiwis, the World Cup won’t be a genuine World Cup.

But that can’t be right.

The World Cup itself, and the game of Rugby League, has to be bigger than any one nation, no matter how powerful it might be.

We can’t allow the status of the World Cup to be determined by whether NRL clubs want to release their players at the end of the season.

We’ve known for a long time that some NRL clubs would like to stop their players from representing nations on the international stage.

And from their point of view, that is perfectly understandable. They pay out big money to their star players and if they get injured then those clubs lose out.

It’s a heavy burden for them to carry.

We’ve seen that in our own domestic competition. Jake Connor and Aidan Sezer both suffered serious injuries in the clash between England and the Combined Nations All Stars last month. Neither player has played since then.

So if you give clubs the chance to prevent their players from playing internationally, some of them will take it or, at the very least, put pressure on their governing body to pull out of international competition. In that sense, the Covid pandemic is an excuse for them to behave in that way.

The fact is, however, that the World Cup organisers have already made a massive investment in this year’s competition, starting with the £25 million granted by the government, and that sort of money wouldn’t be available again next year.

So what has to be done now?

The World Cup team is meeting today to decide what to do next, but my advice is that they should get back to the Aussies and Kiwis and give them a deadline for reversing their decision – perhaps a 14-day cooling-off period could be appropriate.

Let’s see whether the players who probably would play for Australia and New Zealand would really like to come.

Daly Cherry-Evans, who is the current Australian captain, has clearly signalled that he would like to make the trip, as has James Tedesco, who may well turn out for Italy again if the Aussies don’t change their mind.

If they don’t, then we should then investigate the feasibility of bringing Indigenous Australian and New Zealand teams into the competition to replace those national sides.

I would hope that those sides, who play each other annually before the start of the season, would be keen to come. I still recall when the Maoris, captained by Tawera Nikau, played in the 2000 World Cup, so it has been done before.

But if that doesn’t work, let’s invite the USA and Serbia, who were both eliminated at the final stages of the qualifying competition.

That would actually widen the footprint of the competition and it would give rise to the possibility of the Trbojevic brothers turning out for the Serbian team, which would be quite a prospect.

Another result of the ARLC decision is that the Australians have denied the Jillaroos and Wheelaroos (their women’s and wheelchair teams) their chance of glory too.

At the end of the day, the World Cup cannot be delayed. There is too much government funding, logistical planning and public awareness that depends on the tournament taking place this year, without competing against the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

And, with Australia’s zero Covid policy likely to be in operation for some time, there’s no guarantee that the situation will have been satisfactorily resolved next year.

But in terms of answering the question posed by the headline, there can only be one answer.

We can all admire the NRL as a great competition.

But ultimately we have to recognise that the World Cup is the bigger deal.

More postponements

Unfortunately this week’s Super League fixtures between St Helens and Huddersfield and Leigh and Castleford, both due to be played this midweek, have been postponed.

Saints and Castleford are still both exceeding the minimum seven out of 25 senior squad players either testing positive or coming into close contact with people who have tested positive.

It’s unfortunate that the continuing postponement of matches in Super League are taken very close note of in Australia.

It’s not doing our reputation much good at all.

Channel 4 and Rugby League

I’m sure there are arguments both in favour and against any decision to sell off the broadcaster Channel 4 to the private sector, given that at the moment it is publicly owned but not publicly financed.

Channel 4’s decision to headquarter itself in Leeds was a strategy of devolution that had been encouraged by the government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ initiative.

It was reflected by a large banner appearing on the Majestic building in Leeds in October 2019 announcing: “Didn’t think Channel 4 knew there was life outside the M25” above a strap announcing the broadcaster’s arrival in 2020.

Channel 4 claimed that it wanted to reflect the cultural landscape in Leeds upon its arrival.

One aspect of Yorkshire culture, however, that Channel 4 seems to have ignored completely is Rugby League.

Instead it covers Formula 1 and rugby union, but evinces no interest whatsoever in a sport that has thousands of adherents in its adopted home city. For example, as well as Leeds Rhinos, there are 31 community Rugby League clubs in the Leeds Metropolitan District, as well as many more in other parts of West Yorkshire.

Many of those clubs are in strongly diverse areas of the city, which reflect Rugby League’s proud history of inclusion.

That makes it look to me as though Channel 4 is just another elitist metropolitan interloper, mouthing platitudes about cultural diversity, but not taking them seriously.

Rob Burrow All Stars

This Wednesday evening at 7.15pm a team of Leeds legends that played alongside Rob Burrow will take to the field to face off against a select squad of amateur players.

Leeds legends, such as Kevin Sinfield. Danny McGuire, Jamie Peacock and Jamie Jones-Buchanan will feature alongside many other famous names and will be coached on the day by Daryl Powell.

It will be a great evening, and of course it will raise money for a very worthy cause – Rob Burrow and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

It will be entertaining and nostalgic, and it would be great to see as many League Express readers there as possible.

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