4 Ways to Fix International Rugby League – Part 1

By Daniel Andruczyk

First things first. Sunday saw Wales play their first game in the rugbyleague.com European Nations Cup. They Were able to overcome a spirited Serbian team 88-8 at Smederevo’s famed fortress Stadium. The win put them into second place just behind Ireland who they take on in next weeks clash at Pontypridd.


2008 saw the pinnacle of Rugby League come to fruition with the Rugby League World Cup held in Australia. The highly successful tournament was seen as a re-birth of the sport on the international stage. Teams not usually known for their rugby league stepped up to the plate to deliver some spectacular games and results. Scotland with their first ever world cup win against Fiji, Ireland seemingly doing the impossible and winning their group to go to the semi-qualifier against Fiji, Fiji making the semis against Australia. But who could forget the great New Zealand victory in the final. It looked like the Aussies will romp it home early on but the Kiwis rallied and then showed their talent to win quite comfortably in the end.

The World Cup finally generated profit for the fledgling Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), a $5 million war chest it was called. However the tournament exposed yet again many of the sport draw backs and what seems an unwillingness by the sports administrators to do anything about it. The question thus is what is the best way to use the money to help improve and boost the international game. What actual improvements need to be made! Over the next several days I will go through my ideas on how to fix the sport internationally. There are 4 simple things I feel that need to be done and I’ll discuss each in some depth.

So lets begin.

1. Unifying the Rules

I think there are many fans that do not realise that currently there are 3 different sets of rules or rugby league being used around the world! First there is the NRL, with two referees and 10 interchanges dominating. The rest of the world for their domestic games use the standard rules and then there are the international rules for rugby league.

In the end the details do not really matter, but one common set has to be established and applied to everyone by the Rugby League International Federation. No other sport that I know of has different sets of rules for different occasions. No one sport, aside from rugby league, that I know of is so dominated and almost bullied by one country into doing what it wants. Yes Australia and the NRL, I speak of you. Each year all you hear or see is how to change the NRL into something else, something other than what the rest of the world plays. What is wrong with what you have? Many people talk about rugby league being a sport that is not scared to try radical things, but sometimes the radical thing is not to do anything at all. I think that there are many people that have lost sight of this.

The other problem I find is that the NRL is so big and media dominated that it almost shows contempt for anyone else that plays the sport. You just have to read the “Journalists” in the newspapers and listen to the commentators on TV and radio to realise that aside from their precious NRL they know very, very little about rugby league as a whole and what goes on outside of Queensland and New South Wales. The rule changes effectively are driven by them without a care for anyone else.

Last weekend we started to see evidence of this where the Australians complained about English referee Steve Ganson and his interpretations. To me, having watched lots of Super League over the years just saw a Super League official referee like he would at home. The Australians are used to something completely different now and I felt were slow to adapt to the single referee and to a large degree also the Kiwis. With Ganson appointed for the Wigan match, will the English be at an advantage?

Also when you think about it, the Australians with their two referees and 10 interchange are different to the current international rules and the rules used by other domestic competitions. So does this mean that Australian Referees technically do not meet the proper requirements? Should we have only English, French and rest of world referees?

So, the first fix is: have the RLIF establish one set of rules for everyone to abide by throughout the world from the NRL to the Bank of Beirut Championships. Lets give the whole world an common and even playing field to work from.

2. Eligibility rules

Anyone who loves and follows international rugby league know the frustration of the player eligibility rules. In short they are nothing short of the best joke going round. Understand though the issue is not the grandparent rule itself or the fact that a player is eligible for multiple countries. The issue is that the rules are not enforced. I am sorry but what genius came up with the current rules where we have players like Jarryd Hayne and Michael Jennings representing two different countries in two years, or Fuifui Moimoi going to court to try and swap countries just because he doesn’t want to be in one or the other. Rugby League is littered with these cross country players and it not on. In other sports there is absolutely no way a player could do what these players have done.

Now, many people will say that there are not enough players to represent these countries. I say what planet are you on? There are plenty of home grown and heritage players plying their trade around the world to play for any country. I am not going to specifically single out any one country here as all countries are guilty of breaking the rules, but they break the rules only because the RLIF allow them too.

On the RLIS forum many posters rightly point out that many of the Pacific Islanders are eligible for not only New Zealand but also say Tonga or Samoa, I agree, I have no issue with that, all I want if for them to choose one country and stick with it. The incentive or the discouragement has to be there for them not to want to swap, or think very hard about which country they want to play for. The resident and heritage rules for player eligibility are actually OK. I have no problem with them. All I want though is that they are enforced and players not allowed to swap nations as they please.

So fix number two is: When a player chooses a nation and plays a test for that nation they are locked in for a minimum of 4 years from the date of that match, no if’s, no buts. It doesn’t matter when that match is; World Cup, Pacific Nations Cup or Euro Bowl. If you want to swap nations you wait it out for four years without playing any other internationals. If this means you miss out on a World Cup … well so be it.

Thursday Part 2 of ”4 Ways to Fix International Rugby League”

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10 Responses to “4 Ways to Fix International Rugby League – Part 1”

  1. sportsmad says:

    great blogs druzik. i hope you continue them. interesting reads.

    the NRL is so much faster than any other league comp in the world and has the resources to employ a two ref system. if other competitions had what the NRL has im sure we’d see a lot more domestic comps emloying a two ref system to speed up the game take the rpessure off one ref.
    your blog implies that the reason steve ganson ahd what i desribe as the worse refereeing in my life on saturday was because the difference in rules between superleague and the NRL. im sure not even the superleague would condone a “you guys can deal with the repecusions of the fight , ill leave it will u okay” situation and giving a penalty to the other team whos guy had a swinging arm and his head rubbed all over the grass. steve ganson was so far out of his depth it was the only blimp on an otherwise bright radar

    • druzik says:

      Sportsmad… you touch opon another very subtle thing there, which is the styles of play… I will have a blog on this either next week or the week after.

      But yes… Gansons decisions I think are directly effected by this. In Australia we are used to the players and Referees playing by the NRL rules… not a standard set … if Ganson is not used to this or if there are different ways that the ESL deals with things than the NRL or LER isn’t that a problem… should there not be a unifies set of rules and ways decisions shouls be done? In SL you have the card system, in the NRL you dont… why is that? Let me throw this question at you, was Ganson out of his depth or are we in Australia out of touch because we are used to something completely different?

      As you point out, IF everyone had the resources they might be using two referees, but the problem is that NOT everyone has those resources, in fact only the NRL has those resources… but why should they be special and not tow the RLIF line? Why do they have to be special.

      The scenario I can see is that 20 years down the track, the NRL will be so different from the rugby league in the rest of the world there will be another split… the NRL will become another NFL or AFL where its only played in QLD and NSW… and the state comps below that, which seem to sticking with the standard rules, will become the “rugby league” comeptitions that compete internationally. This is what the NRL and Rugby league in general is risking.

      The sport doesnt need to be sped up… it needs to allowed to play itself into a unique style for that country.

  2. Stu says:

    Your comments about the differing rules of the game is very interesting – your point about an NRL/rest of the world split in the future is cause for reflection. My greatest fear has been that the game will allow for live commercial “times out” to accommodate TV broadcasters and advertisers (in Australia).

    I’m not so sure about about all of your concerns about eligibility requirements. In the cases of Tonga and Samoa (and Lebanon and Fiji to an extent) – cultural ties to country of origin can remain strong for generations, so I’m in favour of very flexible arrangements in these circumstances (ie chop and change as much as you like). Why? Beacause otherwise this gives too much advantage to Australia (as a major destination for Pacific migrants) and ignores the potential of multicultural communities in Australia to create domestic comps in places like Lebanon.

    However in the case of France, and Catalans players like Mogg, McGuire and Greenshields who qualify through residency (which is ok) – then I am very much in favour of your four year eligibility requirements. France needs a second ESL side as a priority.

    In the short term, Rugby League is in a position to have a much stronger international presence through the 4 Nations and Pacific Cup. We are almost ready for a regular 5 Nations (France and PNG).

    One last suggestion (and I’d love comments on this). Why not have salary cap exemptions (in the NRL and ESL) for players from domestic comps in countries outside Australia, NZ and England?

    • druzik says:

      Yes, we have seen in the past that some kick offs in the NRL have been postponed because Ch9 had not got back from a commercial, I think there was even a SoO a few years back when that happened… but this seems to have been rectified, but you are right this may be something else that could creep in, and others have suggested it as well.

      No Stu, the swapping and changing only makes us look like a joke to all the other sports. Again let me reiterate, my issue is not that players have cultural ties to other nations and want to represent them, I just dont want the swapping and changing on a yearly basis, choose a country and stick with it. Weather it be through heritage or residency those rules I am happy with, just choose your country I say.

      Yes exactly, we are in a much better position to have a bigger International presence, but we are not capitalising on it. You have the the idea of a 5 Nations and you mention France and PNG… but there will be other nations like Wales, Fiji Tonga, Ireland and Cook Islands even that will say “Hang on what about us, we have proven ourselves, why cant we get a shot at the big boys” … but I will begin to discuss this more in Thursdays blog.

      Well the obvious problem with the cap exemption I can see is the abuse form clubs. They will try and find a country for their stars to “register with” and then use that as a way to beat the cap. The ESL already doesnt count European players in the foreign quota system, and some teams have started to take advantage of that, most notably Whitehaven signing Soni Radovanovic (who got Serbias MoM on the weekend, so congrats to him!) from Serbia. I actually met Soni in 2007 after they played Germany in Heidelberg, was a big lad then, but very quiet If I remember correctly.

  3. oikee says:

    Hey Druzik, have read through your international calender, awesome, really impressed you took the time to deliver such a exciting tournament.

    Mate , just wanted to say about the NRL, this year the NRL has not changed any rules, and i know you are a little bit down on our mob, which i understand your frustration, but you have to admit, without the oz comp, such nations as the islands, and Lebanon would still be light-years behind. Just want to relay your concerns with these nations, they are starting to play good league.
    Anyhow, good to see you still fighting the good fight. Your work around Europe is fantastic. So yes, once we get a proper RLIF up and running, it will be good, because if they adopt the rules in place in the NRL, which are pretty standard anyhow, except for the 2 refs, which as you know was because of whrestling tactics. But the fans are over the moon with the game, and i think you might have heard about the comments of the 1st game, NZ , OZ at the stoop. Thats what we all want from the game. So mate, pull your finger out in Europe, and get the lads up to speed. Cheers mate.

    • druzik says:

      Well that Calendar has been in the making for a while now, I am always looking for improvements in it. One aspect I didnt cover in it was the world cup qualifiers that were not part of the tournaments, but I think I have now got a working solution to that that doesnt over stress teams. Will have a blog up on this soon.

      Oikee, its not about beeing light years behind or what ever… there are actually some very subtle differences in all the rules… the 40/20 in the ESL and NRL is a bit different IIRC, yes there is the two ref thing which is a huge move actually. Also the 10 or 12 man substitution is also a big thing as it changes the way teams have to play the game in general.

      See rules shouldnt be in place to speed or slow the game. They should be there to police the infringements and teams should be allowed to develop their styles. I dont think you need two refs to police the wrestling, there were three refs already ( i.e. the two touchies) that should have been able to pick up on that no problem. The two ref system has effectively produced a different type of game that the English were struggling to adapt with this year.

      And again, the NRL rules are now adapted around the two refs, if everyone was to take the NRL system that means they need two refs as well and 99% of countries around the world just dont have the rsources to do that. As it is even Australia doesnt have those resources in that the lower grades are all single referees.

      The Stoop game was a good fast and hard game, but it was scrappy at the same time, well for a rugby league game it was scrappy. But to the uninitiated and the lay-Union fan it would still have looked like a free flowing and tough game.

      But thanks for your comments Oikee, always appreciate feedback and discussion.

  4. C.T.SANDERS says:

    If people stand up to the nrl there will be no split in the game in 20 years time and time for team gallop and his cronies to go and it is about time geoff carr followed them as well because he has nothing to offer.Look how useless the nsw cup has been over the last few years.It’s only pub football.

  5. C.T.SANDERS says:

    Need salary cap exemptions for rugby union players coming over to league whether it’s the nrl or sl it doesn’t matter.

    • druzik says:

      No way… that is an insane idea… either get rid of caps for everyone or have them for everyone. If you have Cap exemptions for Union players, league teams will spend copious amounts of money ONLY buying union players and will cut out the Juniors and actual league players. Your development at lower levels will suffer. this is precisely what happened in Rugby union in Australia and why the sport is suffering.

  6. C.T.SANDERS says:

    Tell me what the auckland rugby league with millions and millions and millions in the bank do for the game here at the grassroots.No money goes back into the clubs at all.All the money goes towards the warriors a private liability company and if the auckland rl bought rugby players at least that would put bums on seats.Look how much money the nz rugby union have made off sonny bill williams.That’s why one sport is professional and the other amateur and run bu mugs.

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