By STEVE MASCORD
IT’S not overstating things that there has been something of a paradigm shift in out game as a result of the recently-completed Four Nations.
I have a favourite saying about the warring factions within our game: the parochial populists and the outward-looking anoraks: if the meek are to inherit the earth, then the geeks will get rugby league.
And with Jarryd Hayne, Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess walking out on us all at the same time, the non-geeks are finally starting to get it. Fencing ourselves off and resigning ourselves to always being a regional sport just isn’t an option.
It never has been, but they couldn’t see that.
It works like this: the NFL and Major League Baseball and European soccer bring their teams to our doorsteps and try to make money from us. The money we usually give them would otherwise have gone to sports that were locally traditional, like rugby league.
As globalisation steps up a gear and networked media becomes the norm. those traditional local sports will either continue to lose bigger slices of their market share, or they can go into the markets of other sports and steal something back.
There will eventually be no local sports, local music or local arts. There will just be sport, music and art. The very real long-term choice rugby league has is to be a sport, or be nothing.
That rugby union international between the United States and New Zealand recently was astonishing: 65,000 people watching something that has no history in that society was a watershed moment, up there with the NFL at Wembley.
Sonny Bill Williams went straight from our loving embraced to playing before 140,000 on successive weekends in Chicago and London. Wow.
The ignoramuses can no longer deny that expansion is essential for our game’s survival, and that international competition provides us with the best vehicle to carry us down that road.
Now. Plenty of people commenting on rugby league in Australia and New Zealand are general sports followers rather than devotees of our game. Normally, they should be summarily ignored in talking about our battles with other sports, because it’s a war in which they have invested nothing.
But even some of these cynics are finally admitting that the club season is too long, that international football has enormous potential and that – God forbid – Australia should actually be playing next year.
We have Samoa to thank for this breakthrough. We have been searching for a credible fourth nation for a generation. Eligibility laws should naturally accommodate Samoa as a result, allowing State of Origin players to represent them.
That’s the plan: for Origin players to be free to represent tier two countries, but not New Zealand or England.
Secondly, the Four Nations was on the way out with one – at most – planned between 2017 and 2021. We may have to rethink that now. And what happens when the invited country finishes above one of the big three – and we kick them out of the next Four Nations anyway?
Thirdly, it would seem we don’t need big stars to successfully promote an international series any longer. Australia were missing 12 World Cup stars and still attract great crowds in Brisbane, Melbourne and Wollongong.
The Geek Revolution has begun.
THIS column is called Bondi Beat, which means it is supposed to be about Australian rugby league. From time to time we write about how British rugby league looks from Bondi (like, you really have to squint to see it).
Taking those parameters into account, writing about England’s Four Nations campaign may seem a bit of a stretch. For a start, the closest game to Bondi was in Wollongong, which for the hipsters around the seaside suburb may as well be Sierra Leone.
But what the heck. We’re going to make some observations anyway.
England were probably the best team to watch in the tournament, just edging Samoa. They played with daring and skill and speed and seemed to create overlaps on the fringes of opposition defences with ease.
They have solved their problems in the halves. Matty Smith and Gareth Widdop are an accomplished pairing. Kallum Watkins is all class, Josh Charnley and Ryan Hall were outstanding and the Burgess boys plus Jason Graham make for a ferocious pack.
Daryl Clark enhanced his reputation.
They lost for the same reasons all emerging teams at any level do so. You have to pay your dues to rugby league karma. Good, emerging teams, always hit a “luck wall”. If they stick at what they’re doing, they burst through the other side.
With Josh Hodgson in mind, maybe we should call it a “luck door”.
I’ve thought long and hard about Steve McNamara’s claims to keep his post. I’ve come to this conclusion: they had want to have someone very good lined up as a replacement if they are going to punt him.
I didn’t agree with much of what he did from a PR point of view at the World Cup but there is ample evidence his team is building up to something very worthwhile on the pitch.
SO just who is Mike Miller, the American rugby union official who turned down our top job – the CEO of the Rugby League International Federation?
Before he was at the IRB, Miller was head of sport at the BBC. That did not go well – complaints against him from his own staff were leaked to the Mirror.
In rugby union he seemed to do well. He got the sport back into the Olympics, expanded the Sevens, boosted the women’s game and introduced a strategic investments programme.
The World Olympians Association, where he is now CEO, seems a rather cushy job. The man who had the casting vote in offering the job to him was an outside consultant, with Australia’s David Smith and the RFL’s Nigel Wood deadlocked on the issue.
To say it was a blow to Wood that Miller took his time responding, and then declined, is a gross understatement.
Members of the appointments committee were so busy with their own backyards during the interview process that they repeatedly broke appointments.
So when they finally got around to offering Miller the job, he took his time in responding. And presumably, he was not overly impressed with what he was being asked to get involved in.
But the committee doesn’t seem to have its act together since, either. You would have thought they would have gone to the second best candidate, offered it to him, and got on with things. If that did happen, then things have since ground to a halt again.
Rugby league is not a member of Sports Accord and it does not have tax exempt status. Given that it doesn’t even have a CEO, you could argue it doesn’t deserve either.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD