By STEVE MASCORD
THE great thing about the NRL’s enquiries into playing matches in England is that it gives the Commission an excuse to help the British game.
In case you missed it, colleague Brad Walter wrote this week in the Sydney Morning Herald that NRL officials are considering playing a State of Origin game at Wembley, or club games there and elsewhere in Britain.
Before this news emerged, domestic events in the UK were none of the NRL’s business – which was unfortunate given their A$1.025 billion TV deal. Now, they have an excuse to meddle constructively. NRL officials recently met what’s left of the London Broncos, for instance.
Unfortunately, I think there are a couple of miscalculations currently at work. One is to have dismissed the impact of five weeks of World Cup play on selling 74,000 seats at Old Trafford last Saturday. Those 74,000 people didn’t sign up for “an all-NRL contest” – they signed up to hopefully see England play in a World Cup final and went anyway when they missed out!
Secondly, the NFL flooded television for years before playing games at Wembley. They had a long-term strategy. The NRL has a long-term deal on a station most Londoners have never heard of.
The Origin and even Kangaroos brands are almost unknown in London and years of marketing are necessary before such a game can be a success. You invented rugby league here but in London, when it comes to sexiness the NFL is Naomi Campbell and rugby league is Acker Bilk.
AS you might imagine, after five weeks attending matches, dinners and media events in Britain, one gains a better understanding of the challenges facing rugby league here.
What I am about to offer are a bunch of assumptions based on conversations with all manner of people involved in the game in the UK. If I could quote or name these people, I would have. I can’t.
What I have learned is that the situation is markedly different to the way it appears from the outside, from just reading the trade press. And it’s not as dire as it appears, either.
We are all wondering what the competition structure will be the year after next, and whether London will be involved next season. Here’s what seems, to me, to be the case:
1) EVEN THE ‘REBEL’ CLUBS SUPPORT THE NEW STRUCTURE. The clubs who have walked out of meetings aren’t necessarily against splitting Super League into three divisions mid-season – they just want to use the situation to gain more power. They will eventually agree to the proposal – as long as they get something out of it for themselves;
2) MOST SUPER LEAGUE CLUBS ARE SICK OF LOSING PLAYERS TO AUSTRALIA. Ian Lenagan says it’s a compliment to Super League that players are succeeding in the NRL and Super League – but not many of his counterparts at other clubs agree. There is a push for two marquee players per club – one overseas and one local, to help prevent the brawn drain;
3) THE GAME IS GOING TO LEVERAGE THE ADVENT OF BT SPORT AS MUCH AS IT CAN. Another way to compete with the Aussies is to get a shedload of money from broadcasters, as they have. The arrival of BT Sports gives Sky some competition and the British game plans to use that to get a significant increase in the rights, promising a better product in return. Negotiations won’t wait three years to commence – the proverbial iron is red hot. If Sky loses soccer, the stakes will be still higher;
4) LONDON MAY BE BAILED OUT BY A RIVAL CLUB: It seems an established Super League club is preparing to lend the Broncos money and players. NRL officials met Gus Mackay and Tony Rea last week to see if there was anything he could do to help.
You may have been broadly aware of some or all of these senarios but since this is my last column for the year, I thought it worthwhile to spell them out.
SINCE last week, I’ve changed my view somewhat on the requirement that Fiji play Samoa mid-year 2014 for the right to be included in next year’s Four Nations.
As the NRL’s Andrew Hill points out, it was entirely possible that two Pacific countries would be eliminated at the same stage of the tournament, which would have left officials in a bind.
The real problem is that none of these deliberations were reported, so Fiji thought they had been gyped.
There is enormous interest in the international game today and the flow of information from the RLIF is, frankly, appalling.
This is one of many factors that make it impossible to accurately predict what the legacy of this World Cup will be.
THIS will be my last column for the year so I’d like to thank Paul Cunliffe and Paul Coward for giving me the opportunity.
By STEVE MASCORD