By STEVE MASCORD
WELCOME to the most exciting season for at least four years for any Far & Wide reader – a World Cup year!
While there may be a little doom and gloom around the domestic campaigns in each hemisphere, if you’re a follower of the international scene you’ll probably have never been so positive about the sport of rugby league.
The Toronto Wolfpack make their competitive debut in Britain’s National League One on March 4, having been hugely impressive in two pre-season matches.
In December their trialists, drawn from North America and the Caribbean, beat Yorkshire amateur club Brighouse Rangers on the bell. The search for talent over the past six months was filmed by a production crew called Last Tackle and will be coming to your screens this year.
Then in January the contracted players were unfortunate not to beat Challenge Cup holders Hull at their home of KC Stadium. More about all that in the accompanying story in this edition of RLW.
But the thing we’re all really focused on is the World Cup at the end of the year. The main tournament’s going to be shown in Australia on Channel Seven and seems to be coming together well, with sponsors being announced all the time.
The side-tournaments have had it a little rougher.
The qualifying process for the Women’s World Cup was, frankly, a bit of a joke. France were kicked out for no reason and – also for no apparently reason – Canada was included. Then we had a Pacific Qualifying Tournament that was so hastily arranged that every country bar one boycotted it.
That’s except the Cook Islands, who showed up and didn’t have to play anyone to get through to the World Cup!
A group of countries who missed out on World Cup qualification, or who aren’t yet ready to take part, decided it might be a good idea to hold an Emerging Nations tournament at the same time. They were soon told there would be absolutely no funding for them.
The RLIF did, however, approve the idea – perhaps in the very reasonable expectation it would never happen because of the expense involved, what with travel, insurance and accommodation.
To everyone’s amazement, the likes of Malta and Greece got things to the point where they were ready to make an announcement. Then – nothing. Far and Wide hears that because there are so few actual World Cup games in Sydney, there is a concern that this side tournament could steal some of its thunder.
Surely they can’t be trying to “un-endorse” something that is clearly good for the game?
ANOTHER big milestone which seems ahead of us this year is rugby league finally being recognised by Sport Accord.
If you live in Australia this might be hard to believe but in most places on earth, rugby league is not legally a separate sport from rugby union.
This means people trying to start the game in a new place can legitimately be stood over by rugby union, with Sol Mokdad’s 13 nights in a Dubai jail a particularly disgraceful example.
League’s recognition has been delayed twice. We’re up again in April.