Lets Talk International Rugby League

By Daniel Andruczyk

A few days ago I had a rant about the treatment International Rugby League was getting from many of the commentators and even the players now that state of Origin is upon us. I mentioned at the end of that rant 3 points where the game needs to be fixed up. I had a flood of comments and email from people agreeing and disagreeing with me and also coming up with some suggestions – this is all fantastic this is exactly the type of discussion I wanted to generate. So this blog what I want to do is elaborate more on what I think needs to be done. I will use examples from other sports and hopefully show that with some simplicity we can have a great, meaningful international competition. This post may be a long one so please do bare with me.

Regular International Matches

Anyone that has been a regular reader of my blog posts and follows me on twitter an d also reads mu posts on various forum will know that for years now I have been calling for a regular set of international tournaments that all nations are involved in, not just mickey mouse ones. yes I do refer to the current 4 nations as a mickey mouse tournament simply it does not really do anything for the improvement of the International game.

Some of you may disagree with me in that now the European Cup, sorry Championships, and Pacific Cup are played and the winners get a chance to play in the 4 nations. This is true, its a good step in the right direction, but it still will limit the exposure of many nations top the top 3 nation. Seriously at the moment can anyone ever see Papua new Guinea or Wales NOT winning these tournaments.

Its a vicious catch 22 that the game sits in: People don’t take the International game seriously because of the lack on nations, so tournaments don’t involve the other nations which don’t get exposure to the major teams to help improve which means the game will get pt down because of lack of nations because they are not good enough so don’t get the games etc… you see where that cycle is going, yes? So how do we fix this, how do we break the cycle?

Enter Soccer.

Soccer is not my sport of choice to watch, I don’t have anything against it, but I don’t enjoy watching it that’s all. However they do have probably the best tournament structure. They have a good 4 year cycle of regional tournaments and international tournaments that culminate in the World Cup at the end of that cycle. This is something that we much do in Rugby League. So last year I did do a series of blog posts that went into some detail and also I showed a simulation on how a cycle would work. However in this post i will do a bullet summary of how it should work. So the earliest this could be implemented would be after the 2013 World Cup ion the UK

  • Year 0: World Cup.
  • Year 1: Regional Championships qualifiers. This is the first year in the 4 year cycle for nations to start playing tournaments. I see three regional tournaments at the moment, the Pacific Cup, European Cup and Atlantic Cup. These would come under the umbrella of the governing organisation like the RLEF, to promote and generate money for the region.
  • Year 2: Regional Championships. So teams that have qualified from the previous year play out this tournament. But the important thing is that nations like Australia and New Zealand and England ALSO play in these tournaments, that value is given to them with these top nation. This is where the other teams get their first exposure to playing the top team, and not just in a one off match but in a tournament where is means something. The semi finalists in these tournaments then go through to a 6 and 4 Nations tournaments in the next year. Some of the lower tier World Cup qualifying matches can start to be played as well in this year.
  • Year 3: RLIF Cup (6N) and Federation Shield (4N). The RLIF cup would have the top 2 teams from Europe and the Pacific in it with the 3rd placed teams and winner of the Atlantic Cup playing off in a small tournaments for the last two spots. The team that doesn’t qualify there then goes into the federation shield with the 4th placed Europe and Pacific team and 2nd places Atlantic Cup team. These two tournaments because they have the same number for games in the pool stages (6 each) can be played in the same place and so the Federation shield can be an opener to the RLIF cup. This way you can have the top 10 teams in the world playing and being exposed to the audiences. The teams in the RLIF cup and the finalists of the Federation shield get Automatic entry into the world cup. The last two Federation shield teams would go into a repechage play off for spots in the World Cup. Aside from these tournaments, other World Cup qualification matches would be happening as well.
  • Year 4: World Cup. This would be a 16 team tournaments now, previously I had 12w but the RLIF now has increased it to 14 (bizarre) this one would be 16. So 8 teams from the previous year get Automatic qualification and another 8 would have got spots through regular qualification tournaments. I would have 4 groups of 4 teams, no super group, but the 8 teams to come through the RLIF Cup and Federation Shield would get seeding and then the repechage and other qualifiers can be randomly drawn into the groups. I would then have Quarter finals (A1 v D2, B1 v C2, C1 v B2, D1 v A2) semi finals and Final. All up 35 matches, the group stages would be over 3 weekends and the finals also over 3 weekends, so only 5 weeks which is the same as the 2008 World Cup. I had previously outlined a lower tier International Cup to be played at the same time, I guess a “Emerging Nations World Cup” but with 16 teams and the qualifiers I don’t think this would be a viable option anymore.
Group A Group B Group C Group D
RLIF Cup 1 RLIF Cup 3 RLIF Cup 4 RLIF Cup 2
Fed Shield 2 RLIF Cup 6 RLIF Cup 5 Fed Shield 1
Repechage 1 Pacific Qual. Europe Qual. Repechage 2
Pacific Qual. Europe Qual. Europe Qual. Pacific Qual.

So there we have it, that is how I would set out the international tournament structure. In the next month or so I will run another simulation with this 16 team World Cup and see how it comes out.

Representative seasons

The next issue is when do we have the internationals played? There are two ways of looking at it. First don’t have any mid-year representative games, just have March-October as the domestic season and then have 8 weeks of internationals. The second is have a mid year gap for internationals as well as at the end of the year.

I myself am in favour of the second scenario. I’ll explain why. Basically in Europe and other places where Rugby League is played in the Summer the only international window for many of the nations is in the June-July period. A 5-6 week window where they can play internationals. So I know the biggest obstacle for this will be the NRL and them saying that by having a 5 week gap mid year they miss out on the TV ratings etc. Well lets be smart about this.

So yes NRL games would be stopped and rep games moved to the weekend, but I think many fans would be in favour with this as many around State of Origin time complain that the NRL teams loose many of their main players and the games are of less quality. So Yes lets have a mid year break from NRL. The Aussies can have their Country Origin, State of origin three weeks in a row and then finish off with the ANZAC Test? Makes sense no, have the reo games from the lowest tier to the highest. This put the value back on the Kangaroo Jersey that the State of Origin players play for a Kangaroo jersey.

But in this 5 week period we certainly can have many other games played. Why Can’t the Kiwis have maybe a Provincial game, lets have mid year tests between Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, PNG and Cook Islands? Even have the Kiwis play some more matches. And have all these games televised! You can also get the Europeans to play some mid year tests.

So imagine this on TV for a weekend:

  • Week 1: City v Country, New Zealand v Tonga, Samoa v Cook Islands, PNG v Fiji, Scotland v Wales, England v Ireland
  • Week 2: State of Origin 1, Tonga v Cook Islands,  Samoa v PNG, New Zealand v Fiji, France v Wales, England v Scotland
  • Week 3: State of Origin 2, New Zealand v PNG, Samoa v Cook Islands, Tonga v Fiji, England v Wales, Ireland v France
  • Week 4: State of Origin 3, New Zealand v Samoa, PNG v Tonga, Cook Islands v Fiji, Wales v Ireland, Scotland v France
  • Week 5: Australia v New Zealand, Tonga v Samoa, PNG v Fiji, England v France, Ireland v Scotland

Pretty juicy hey.

For the New World Nations like Germany, Russia etc… then this mid year period is important since this is when they can play their internationals like the European Shield and Bowl. By having this representative break, nation can call upon some of their heritage and professional players and make the value of their jerseys and representing the nation something to honour. If the 4 year cycle is implemented like above it gives options for tournaments to be played either mid year or end of year as well. Its not rocket science to figure this out.

Eligibility

The Eligibility rules for international teams have to be changed. At the moment its just such a farce the way players can swap and change nations at a whim, and the RLIF just does not seem to do anything to stop this. But there is a reason it like that, just look who is in the RLIF board: Collin Love (ARL), David Gallop (NRL), Richard Lewis (RFL) and Ray Heffenden (NZRL). Now if that is not a conflict of interest then I have no idea what is! How can you get the bosses of the two major competition in three countries run the international game. It seems in their interests that to have “the best three” teams then they control and lax the eligibility rules to suite themselves.

There are many players that have gone and swapped allegiances over the last few years, more than once. Jaryd Hayne (Australia, Fiji, Australia), Michael Jennings (Tonga, Australia), Fuifui Moimoi (Tonga, New Zealand, Tonga, New Zealand), Wille Tonga (Samoa, Australia), Danny Brough (Scotland, England) and there are many, many more. Its a slap in the face to all the New World Nations that they are treated with such disdain by their players.

Have a look at this silliness that the 2013 World Cup qualification is getting. Many have hailed that it great that we get 12 teams with Automatic Entry (something that should) into the tournament, but they fail to realise that because these nations now don’t have to qualify then players can swap and change nations as they please! But nations like Russia, Italy, Serbia, USA and Japan will not be subject to these nice eligibility rules since they have to qualify and so players wont be allowed to join them later! Stupid.

I realise that some players can qualify for many nations, but choose one and stick with it please. Don’t just swap and change. Its not fair on any of the nations.

The solution is very simple actually. So on top of providing the incentives for players to play for their nation now because

  • Parent and Grandparent rule: This is OK. I have no problems with this. Most sports have it actually. So a player qualifies for a nations through his heritage down to grandparents or if they have a passport.
  • Residency rule: This is a very dodgy rule but at the moment Rugby League does need it for nations and so am happy to leave it in there … for now.
  • Choose a country: Once a player plays an international – ANY International – then they are locked into that country. Let all the nations be able to field their best team. No swapping or changing nations.
  • Dual citizenship: If there is a player that wants to change for what ever reason then they need to not play for the first country for a period of 4 years. This means that they will miss out on a whole cycle of tournaments. So be it, you need to be committed to the change either way.
  • Enforcement: These eligibility rules have to, HAVE TO be enforced by the games governing body the RLIF.

A Professional Organisation

The various governing bodies have to be professionally and independently run. Well at least the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) needs to be. At the moment there is no independence in the RLIF, I mentioned earlier who is in there. Now I am not saying they are bad or anything, but there is a massive conflict of interest. The people that run the sport need to have no association with any other rugby league organisation and work towards the international sport growing.

But they need to be paid. No two ways about it. The $5 million (still haven’t seen any audit or anything released about this) should have gone to finally getting independent people to run the sport and pay them. Doesn’t it make sense that rather than have $5 million to spend over 5 years, pay someone to say bring in $5 million every Year! Then some of that money can go to forming independent and professionally run regional bodies like the RLEF. These bodies also do their own promotion and advertising to money in.

So with that, rather than one pay day for the sport, you can have many pay days. Each regional tournaments makes money that goes directly in the regional bodies and nations and their funding. You have the RLIF Cup and World cup that do the same for the international game. The game over a 4 year period can earn up to $100 million, its not out of the question.

The RLIF structure would be a bit different. So you would have  the Chairman, Vice-chairman, Treasurer, Board member and then a representative from each regional body. So there would be 7 members that would vote on things.

The various tournaments would be controlled by the different bodies that relate to them. For example the European Cup would be run and promotion and money made for the RLEF, similarly for the Pacific and Atlantic Cup’s. The RLIF Cup, federation Shield and World Cup would be controlled by the RLIF.

With these measures I am positive the sport can grow internationally and be significant on the world sporting stage.

Rule Unification

This is one of the biggest issues in Rugby League. Currently there are four sets of Rugby League laws around the world. The sport is schizophrenic in this way. The NRL has one set, The lower leagues in Australia another, England has another set and then there are international rules that everyone else uses. The RLIF needs to step in and finally make a decision on a unifies set of rules that everyone abides by.

Origin

This may probably be the most controversial part of this post. State of Origin in its current form has to go. Now I am not saying get rid of it altogether, but it needs to be changes somehow.

At the moment State of Origin is killing the game internationally, even within Australia! How I hear you say? Well for a Start outside of Queensland and New South Wales, what other state really cares about these two teams and the Tournament? Its one thing to say “Oh we can use it to promote the game in the other state” but lets do it then, lets take the game on the road. Have one of the games in Melbourne, New Zealand, Adelaide and Perth. Lets try and get a third team in one that starts to encompass players from outside these strong holds.

Secondly because State of Origin is valued more highly than the international game many players who would otherwise play for Tonga or Samoa or other nations choose not to just so they can play State of Origin. This is because no other games are regarded as highly as SoO.

As far as I am concerned State of Origin needs to be a selection criteria for the Australian team, its played before the ANZAC Test, it must have its place shown to be less than the International game. Internationals need to be the pinnacle of the sport, like in all other sports.

Tours

Here I think Soccer has it right once again. Tours, as far as I am concerned are a thing of the past. Tours were only afforded by the richest teams and were always played by two teams in a series. Only Australia, New Zealand, England and France for a time could do tours. But these left out all the other nations. They did absolutely nothing for other nations getting a chance to play the best teams.

Look at Rugby Union, in their whole history how many nations beyong the “Test Playing” ones have been brought aboard… Italy and no one else. Outside of England, France, Italy, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina no other nation gets a chance to play and expand the game in Union.

If we have tour then Rugby League will always be a 4 nation sport. PNG wont even get a chance to play end they have the Rugby League as the National Sport.

Like I said Soccer has it right. No tours, just regional and international tournaments where all nations need to qualify through to the finals. All the teams get a chance to play the best teams and in doing so it put a high value on the international game.

We stick with tour we stall and become stale like Union, we get rid of tour and have meaningful tournaments we grow like Soccer.

International Exposure

This may be the biggest issue. The media, even the so called “rugby league media”, treats the sport with disdain and place so little value on the international scene. the Phil Rothfield and Dean Ritchie comments the other day are just so typical of the media in Australia. Its bad enough that we have to put up with bigoted opinions from Rugby Union Journalists we certainly don’t need it in Rugby League.

The Footy Show is a plain embarrassment and the Sunday Roast also does nothing for talking about the sport.  I would rather see someone like Steve Mascord and people who know the International game have a TV show that is shown around the world like the Futbal Mundial show for soccer. This is what we need, we need to expose the game to as many people we can. Get matches and these TV shows on EuroSport and the like and repeated constantly.

24 hour News Services like CNN need to also carry results. they will show Super 14 Union and their international but never have I seen them show NRL or ESL results let alone our 45 Nations results. Its appalling. Again someone within the RLIF or the Regional Bodies needs to step up and start promoting the sport.

The New World

I hate the term minnow nations. I feel it is a degrading term. How about we just call them New World nations, but do we need to call them anything at all? Why not just call them Nations, they are nations that play rugby league.

And in doing so the tem “Test match” needs to go as well. It segregates teams and there is confusion out there weather a match is a Test Match or not. Lets just call them internationals, weather its Australia v New Zealand or Germany v Czech Republic, they are all internationals and should be treated equally, should be valued.

Summary

If all the measures above can be implemented I cannot see why Rugby League around the world can’t have a significant presence. Maybe not as nig as soccer but certainly a significant one.

 

Daniel Andruczyk’s email: daniel@rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com
banner ad
Powered by WordPress | Built by Thinking Cap Studios