4 Ways to Fix International Rugby League – Part 3

By Daniel Andruczyk

In the last two blogs I have looked at three  out of four points on how to improve the international game. One is to unify the rules, second is to clean up the player eligibility rules, third to professionalise the RLIF. Today I continue outlining my fourth point, my solution to fixing the international schedule. I look in detail of how the regional and pan global tournaments would work.

Regional tournaments

One of the most important tournaments that a sport can have is the regional tournament. Its where local rivalries are established and played out and where it can give teams bragging rights. These are the things fans love, to have that proof hey Samoa is better than Tonga because we beat you in the Pacific Nations cup etc… So to show just how one of the regional tournaments would play out, I have done up and example. I have used the European Nations Cup just because it has many nations and would pose the most structured of the all the regional tournaments.

So lets begin. Let me point out first that the qualifiers happen in the first year of the four year cycle. This allows the traditional tours to be held in that period (though I think the tours need to be scrapped). The chances are that in this first year the top four nations, Australia, New Zealand France and England, are not involved in the qualifiers is quite high. So they will have the chance to do their traditional tours. The current tournaments that the RLEF has, The Euro Shield, Euro Med and Euro Bowl ALL can be kept. They would produce the lowest tier of the competition, all on the same level and the winning teams of those tournaments earn the right to go on and play in the proper qualifiers for the European Nations Cup. These tournaments would the played out mid year as they are currently in Europe, so a May-August period.


The next step is the qualifiers proper. These will have four groups of three, i.e. Pools 1-4. These nations play each other once and the winners of each nation earn the right to go into the Finals of the ENC. Again these are played in the first year but in the more traditional October/November window… but in reality can be played at any stage in the year. All the nations in both these levels of qualification would play on a home or away basis.

The winners of the four pools then enter the Finals. Now the Finals would involve 8 nations. Four nations would get automatic entry. The top three ranked nations and the host nation. If the host nation is in the top three then its the top 4 nations that get automatic entry. The remaining places are made up of the four winners from the qualifying pools. The tournament is played in the second year of the four year cycle and in the traditional October/November time slot. Above as an example I had Russia as the host nation.

The “Finals” are played with two groups of four teams. Each team in the group playing each other once. The top two teams from each group go into the semi finals. The Semis would play out Pool A1 v Pool B2, Pool B1 v Pool A2. The winners of the semis go into the final and the losers into a 3/4 play off. The 3/4 play off however still serves a very important part. The two finalists get automatic entry to the next years RLIF Cup (6N) and this would also be the case for the two finalists of the Pacific Nations Cup. The third placed team goes into a play off with the third placed Pacific Nation and the winner of the Atlantic Nations Cup. The fourth placed team goes into the second tier Federation Shield (4N).

RLIF Cup and Federation Shield

We now see the first of the carrots to be dangles in front of teams. In the third year of the four year cycle there would be two major tournaments played. First the RFIL cup I propose as an expansion of the current 4 Nations, but all places need to be earned by the team. As stated earlier the first four spots are taken up by the finalists of the Pacific and European Nations Cup’s and then there is a play off by the Atlantic Nations Cup winner and the two third placed European and Pacific cup nations. So the RLIF cup can in theory have teams from across the board competing.

The second tournament is a 4 Nations Federation Shield. Not I a, keeping the names of all the current tournaments in there, we already have the marketing in place so it makes sense to pursue with these names. The Federation Shield would have the third placed team of the RLIF Cup qualifier and the two 4th places nations from Europe and the Pacific as well as the second placed Atlantic team. Thus this tournament will definitely have teams from across the globe.


Now here is the beauty of the marketing. With the RLIF Cup having two groups of three and the Federation shield with one group of four nations, that means that in the round stages there are six matches in each tournament. Thus you can have the federation shield matches as openers to the RLIF Cup! Fans would get to see four international team in one night. Many fans talk about and complain that they don’t get to see many of the other nations play, well these tournaments provide just that opportunity. So right here you have 10 of the world top nations playing in two important and meaningful tournaments because…

… The carrot that I mentioned before is that the nations that qualify for the RLIF Cup also qualify automatically for the World Cup, which for mine is 12 teams (can be expanded to 16 at a later date). The two finalists of the Federation Shield also get Automatic entry to the world cup. Right there we have 8 of the best team in the last 3 years in the world cup ready to rumble. The two teams that come 3rd and 4th in the Federation Shield go into a repechage play off with teams that have come through the Europe, Pacific and Atlantic qualifying stages.

As these two tournaments are being played, the rest of the nations that are going through the usual World Cup qualifiers can play their matches and by the end of the year you will have the final four spots settles. These would be one from the repechage, one from the Pacific and two from Europe. Europe gets two simply because it has the most number of countries playing at the moment. However the next best eight countries don’t go away empty handed either. They go into a second tier International Cup (some will call it an Emerging Nations Cup, but I hate that term) where they will play for a piece of silverware as well.

World Cup and International Cup

Finally we come to it, the last year in the four year cycle. The world and international cups. So let me say now that for me a World Cup should only ever have a quarter to a third of the nations playing the sport compete in it. For Rugby league there is roughly 38 nations that are currently involved in international rugby league, so 12 is a pretty good number, hence why I chose it.

Just to reiterate, the teams that qualify for the World Cup are the six RLIF Cup teams, two Federation shield teams, one repechage team, one other Pacific nations team and two other European teams. The format is four groups of three teams. The International Cup has the next best eight teams with two groups of four team there. Thus there are 20 international teams competing on the biggest stage.


Once again what we see here is that with each nation playing each other once, there are 12  pool matches in the World Cup and 12 pool matches in the International cup. Thus you can have the International Cup matches as openers to the World Cup games. This capitalises on crowds, advertising and minimises money expenditure in terms of Stadiums and fans get to see four nations play in one night.

The top two teams in each group of the World Cup go through to the quarter finals, and then semi finals and then the final and 3/4 play off. In the International Cup the top two teams in each group and the bottom 4 teams from the World Cup go into a quarter final play off, semi finals 3/4 play off and final. Once again these matches serve as openers to the main games. The bottom four teams in the International cup can have a semi final, 3/4 play off and final for a World Plate, which would be held with the main games as well, so Semi finals, 3/4 play off and finals would have three matches in the one day… how good a day of international rugby league would that be! So all up there are 20 rounds of matches to be played with all the tournaments!

Once this cycle is complete then you begin it all again. So the beauty here is that each tournaments should be a stand alone product where money generated from advertising and gates etc… goes to the constituent governing bodies of that tournament:

  • Stand alone matches – Countries involved
  • Tours – Countries involved
  • European Nations Cup – RLEF
  • Pacific Nations Cup – RLPF
  • Atlantic Nations Cup – RLAF
  • RLIF Cup, Federation Shield, World Cup, International Cup – RLIF

Any Nation that is keen to host a World Cup / International Cup can show they are ready by first maybe staging a successful  regional tournament and then a RLIF Cup / Federation Shield. So the incentives are there for all, not only nations that have hosting ambition, but nations to do well to get to the world cup and compete with the big boys on a regular basis, and the players, to choose and stick with what ever country knowing that they will now get regular meaningful games against the best of the best.

… Sunday Part 4 of “4 Ways to Fix International Rugby League”

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