Lets Calm the Hysteria.

By Daniel Andruczyk

OK so you must have been on Mars the last week to have missed Russell Crowe’s announcement, or dream really, to have an expanded Rugby League World Club Challenge Tournaments played in the USA. Namely, Las Vegas was named as the likely place. But before we all start bellowing hallelujah, the saviour is here, lets take some Valium and a step back and really analyse what this would mean for the sport of Rugby League. In particular in having it expand internationally. When I thought about this and worked through it, I was surprised. Russell’s proposal could do more damage to Rugby League than good!

So What’s the Deal

OK so the article appeared in the Sydney Morning herald a few days ago, in summary this is what the article says, or what Russell’s dream is:

  • An Expanded Competition featuring 4 teams from the NRL and ESL
  • To be played in the USA
  • Create new revenue streams from international broadcast right
  • Would eventually become like the Champions League in Soccer
  • Would be played after the ESL and NRL Grand Finals
  • Played in a single city, such as Las Vegas
  • 27 games in 3 weeks
  • Over time see teams from the USA, PNG, France and NZ join in

That is it in a nutshell. Sound pretty good hey? I thought so too when the article came out. I thought woohoo finally Russell is getting on the International Rugby League bandwagon. As I went to bed and started to think about how this would all look, a dreaded reality hit and it all started to unravel. In the end I don’t think Russell has really thought this through properly, he has one eye and that is Souths and the NRL rather than overall Rugby League at heart.

I know I just have made many of you upset… but hear me out!

Show me the time!

The title says it all I think, where the hell in the already crowded Rugby League calendar will this fit in? The NRL season Proper runs for 27 weeks, add on another 4 weeks of playoffs, then another 5 weeks of the pre season and then 6 weeks for internationals at the end of the year we have 42 weeks out of 52 taken up by Rugby League. Throw in 3-4 weeks of this World Club Challenge and that leaves only 6 weeks left for the players to have time off and before they get back into training.

We already are complaining that our players are playing too much Rugby League and now we want them to play even more? Some can view it that “Oh they get a trip over seas to Las Vegas or where ever, they will be pampered etc… it will be a holiday for them”. Well hell, then what’s the point of having a tournament if they wont take it seriously of that teams might field under strength teams?! The only way that this tournament could be staged is by having to scale back the International season!

Plus if we do have the 42 week season, then the internationals will end up being played in the middle of the European winters, which would be about now. So if a 4 Nations or European Cup are played then it would be around about this time, and guess what, there is snow and its cold and the sport would also be competing with Soccer and Rugby Union for the airwaves. Insanity! Back in Australia such a tournaments will be competing with Test Match Cricket and Soccer.

Its something that will also line only the coffers of the NRL and ESL, remember that the International game will not see any of this. Also what it does is that it is another incentive for players from other nations like the Pacific Islands to not play internationals and abandon their nations for playing in this competition, further hitting the International games reputation.

In the end all I see with this is a further entrenching of the NRL, and you will see you’ll never see any other nation join in this tournament despite what Russel says. Australia and the NRL just would not allow it. There is no incentive for any other country to promote the sport if they cannot be included in some way.

Where is Russell?

So, I know Russell has done wonders for promoting South Sydney and getting them back on their feet. He has done wonders for promoting the NRL. But that is just the point. He is promoting the NRL and not Rugby League. Don’t be fooled, the NRL is almost as far removed from “Rugby League” as Rugby Union is. The NRL has different rules and in reality sees themselves above the RLIF and anyone else in the way they treat players and other nations.

So I have this question, if Russell Crowe really had the sport at his heart, and he really wants to promote it where was he at the recent Atlantic Cup? If the USA is the big market to cash in on, then he should be helping David Niu and the AMNRL to promote their product. You see I think despite all his years in the USA Russell still doesn’t get one thing about yanks, they follow their own. They will not be interested in a bunch of Aussies and Poms playing a few games. Throw in American teams, promote them and then they do take notice.

Russell should have been in Jacksonville to support and help promote the recent Atlantic Cup. The 12,000 that turned out in Jacksonville a few years ago were mainly due to him being there, but am sure there were many converts as well that day. David Niu says that he was embarrassed by the crowds at the Atlantic Cup, in part the promotion could have been much better from the AMNRL, but if Russell was there I guarantee that the crowds would have been much bigger, there would have been greater TV coverage and promotion. We know that he was in the US that week, he was on Leno and other Talk Shows talking up about Greg Inglis, was there a mention of the AMNRL and the Atlantic Cup… where the national team, the best player the USA has to offer… No there wasn’t and that was the most disappointing thing.

Even in the SMH article, he mentions David and Spinner but no mention of the great work and the Atlantic Cup, which was a great success in my eyes. I can tell you, I was there, if Russell turned up, the crowds would have been triple what they were each day. They would have easily broken 10,000 for the week. That is the power that Russell commands.

During the regular AMNRL season does Russell support any team? Does he go to any of the matches when he is in “town”? No he doesn’t. If he see the USA as the great hope and saviour then the ground work has to be done at the base and that is the AMNRL and USA International level. Get the public interested through there and then have them involved in a tournament from other nations.

What Would be the Solution?

So how can this be salvaged? The way I see it there are two solutions that could make Russell’s dream work. It would mean caving in by the NRL and ESL some, but the only way the sport is going to increase any profile in the world and Australia is for this to happen:

1. Cut Back the Season

Its simple, for Russel’s dream to happen will mean that the NRL and ESL will have to cut back their season by 4 weeks somewhere. It has to be done in the domestic season. The Integrity of the Internationals as the pinnacle of the sport has to be maintained, in fact increased. No domestic competition should be bigger or better than international competitions.

I have said for a while now, there actually is absolutely no reason why teams have to try and play each other twice. By 20 to 22 weeks it should be pretty clear which teams are the best in a competition. The NRL and ESL can be cut back to 22 weeks. Hell you can have it at 24 weeks and get rid of two of the pre season weeks. This at least will drag things back to within the window we have now without impacting too much on other tournaments like the Challenge Cup as well.

2. International Tournaments

If we really want the world to sit up and take notice of Rugby League it has to be done through International Tournaments. All other sports are spread this way, people will only get interested in something when “their own” are playing. Why would Americans want to watch Australian and British Teams? Why do the French care about Melbourne, particularly if they see no benefit for them? The only way is to have the national teams play. We have seen this year that the French are willing to come out in their great numbers again.

We also need to have the media come on board. Rather than poopooing the sport all the time, they should be coming on board demanding better exposure and elevation of the international game. Its a constant thorn in our side but look at Rugby Union. Why is it that their sport seems to still thrive and expand internationally, its because the International is still king. The clubs and domestic federations hold secondary power to the IRB. The same goes for Soccer, FIFA rules UEFA and CONCAF etc… they make sure that the International game is the pinnacle and even when Andorra looses to England 12-0 no one comes out dismissing the game and saying that they should not even bother. no its the opposite, they get elevated to being courageous for taking on the might of England. Remember when Portugal took on the All Blacks in the 2007 Union World Cup? They were plucky, courageous,


So just so summarise and conclude what i have said. When you break down Russell Crowe’s Las Vegas dream, it really does not do anything to help the sport over all internationally. Its there only to serve the NRL and ESL, and only because they are run pretty badly and need the money. Yeah its a money making venture only, promotion wise it won’t do much. It will make life difficult for players as they only get a very short off season.

The way to make this happen is to cut back the domestic seasons so that the International season integrity is kept, and if Russell is really serious he should pump his money not into Souths but into the AMNRL and get them professional, have them spread the word in America with Americans. Once you have that then you can fan out to the rest of the world.

Daniel Andruczyk’s email: daniel@rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com
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