Far & Wide: Welcome, Wolfpack

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

IT’s the first Trans-Atlantic sports club in history – welcome to rugby league, the Toronto Wolfpack.

Toronto mayor John Tory was on hand for the gala launch last week of a truly historic venture – a place in England’s National League One next year.

As an expansion franchise, this makes the New Zealand Warriors look like Newtown in comparison.

To put it into perspective, its believed no North American professional sports team has ever played in a promotion and relegations league before, because franchising is the dominant system in the US and Canada.

The Wolfpack, to be coached by ex-Leigh boss Paul Rowley, will play roughly a month of home games at a time and then go on tour for a month in England – just as we have been saying an English team in the NRL would operate.

Players will be drawn initially from England but Rowley will scout all of North America.

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National League One is still two divisions below Super League so it’s a long haul to the top flight.

But that conference now covers the length and breadth of England, with teams from France, Wales and now Canada.

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SEMI Radradra aside, confusion of eligibility continues to rule during the lead-up to the NRL representative weekend.

The Queensland Rugby League tried to tell people Anthony Milford was tied to Australia even though he’d not yet played for them at senior level!

Meanwhile, David Mead was – correctly – chosen by Papua New Guinea despite playing NSW Country less than 12 months before.

Queensland and NSW are provinces and in the eyes of the RLIF have no more impact on a player’s national eligibility than Group 16 would tie a player to Australia.

You are not tied to a country until you represent it at senior level during a World Cup cycle.

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THE announcement of the Four Nations dates and venues happened between the last column being written and the mag coming out.

October 28: Australia v Scotland at Craven Park; October 29: England v New Zealand at John Smith’s Stadium; November 5: England v Scotland and New Zealand v Australia at Ricoh Arena, Coventry; November 11: New Zealand v Scotland at Derwent Park, Workington; November 13: England v Australia at Olympic Stadium, London; November 20: FINAL at Anfield, Liverpool.

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

How International Rugby League Will Look Over The Next Five Years

p1_coverBy STEVE MASCORD

CANBERRA can be rather fetching in Autumn. And it’s in Australia’s capital, late last month among the yellowing leaves and ring roads, that the Great Britain rugby league team was fetched back from the history books.

The rumours have been around for quite some time but when the World Cup executive met in the days leading up to the April 19 Test between Australia and New Zealand, the news finally leaked out – GB’s flag will most likely be hoisted after an eight-year break in 2015.

It’s something RFL chief executive Nigel Wood wanted to keep quiet but RLIF chairman Scott Carter spoke openly about it in the lead-up to the meeting. A tour at the end of the 2015 season will comprise two Tests against each of the trans-Tasman rivals and mid-week matches against yet-to-be-determined opposition.

The executive also heard of plans to expand the World Club Challenge, with the top three NRL teams to play exhibition games in Perpignan and London to help pay for the trip.

Next year, the WCC will likely head to Perth as a two-team competition. The next, it will be six teams played over an entire weekend in the UK, with the final on Sunday and the second- and third-ranked teams playing off on Friday and Saturday night.

Two out of the three NRL teams will ape the expansion efforts of the AFL by playing before what is expected to be big expat crowds in Super League’s two outposts. It’s the sort of thing many of us have been calling for, for years.

We often whinge that our sport is depressingly small-time on a global scale. But on the flipside, isn’t it great that Forty20 Magazine can ring up the head honcho of the sport worldwide and he’ll tell us a bunch of things about the upcoming international calendar that have not been reported anywhere else?

Let’s start with the 2014 mid-season internationals. Carter says it’s gratifying that Australia have committed to the Anzac Test for another four years. We’ve been told by Australian sources that NRL wants to play two different countries in the Pacific Test next year, even though Tonga and Samoa seem convinced they are locked in again.

Fiji and Papua New Guinea are favoured next year. If NRL clubs agree, this could become a double header with Tonga-Samoa. We asked Carter about the Pacific All Stars concept and he said that would be a matter for the Australians.

Onto the 2014 Four Nations, to be shared between Australia and New Zealand, then.

“The highest ranked Pacific nation (in the World Cup) will be the fourth team in the 2014 Four Nations, which is in the southern hemisphere,” Carter tells us from Auckland.

“Australia, New Zealand and England had some discussion about logistical issues – stadia and such. It will come down to a bidding process, where the games are played.

“In recent years, governments and councils on both sides of the Tasman have been interested in staging such events. This has included non-traditional areas for our sport so it is wide open.

“A lobbying process will now begin where we let the authorities in various cities know which fixtures are available. There is absolutely nothing to say the final must be in Australia.

“If a New Zealand city wishes to host the final and puts together the right bid, then that can happen.” For financial and television reasons, it seems unlikely the fourth nation in next year’s tournament will host a match.

OK, we’re doing things in chronological order. Here’s what most of you really want to know about: the return of Great Britain, who’ve not tackled a foreign infidel in anger since 2007.

“As I said before the meeting in Canberra, there’s a lot of interest in a Lions tour,” Carter says. “The idea is that Great Britain would play four games in Australia and four games in New Zealand, of which two each would be Tests.”

Carter wasn’t in position to say who the opposition would be for the mid-week games on the western side of the Tasman – but was happy to discuss the New Zealand schedule.

“There’s a great history for Lions tours and one tradition we really want to maintain is the Maori team,” he says.

“If you remember, in 2010 England played the Maori and it was an 18-all draw. So that would be one of the games.

“There is also a feeling that we should keep the tradition of regional teams who have played touring sides in the past. One of the obvious ones there is Auckland, who have actually beaten international teams.”

But wait, dear traditionalist. There’s more!

While the international programme as we know it now has a Four Nations in the northern hemisphere in 2016, there is another idea doing the rounds.

“There has been some discussion about having an outgoing New Zealand and outgoing Australian tour to the UK at that time instead,” said Carter.

That’s right, Australia and New Zealand on tour in Britain at the same time, perhaps playing the home nations and even out-of-season club sides – similar to what happens in the other code.

“But I stress, it was just something that was thrown up,” said Carter. “At the moment, it’s a Four Nations which is in the international schedule and that’s what is more likely to happen.”

OK, are you flipping over the decade-long calendar on your fridge? We are now in 2017. There is another World Cup on.

“I have two hats here,” Carter begins. “As RLIF chairman, I can say that there are two bids.

“There’s South Africa, a country where there is definitely the infrastructure and experience to stage an event of this magnitude. There is definitely still interest there.

“However, the South African Rugby League is having recognition issues with the government.”

(The South African government refuses to recognise rugby league as a separate sport to rugby union. If the public has the same position, we simply MUST stage the World Cup there!)

Bid documents have gone out to the SARL, ARL and NZRL.

“As NZRL chairman, I would say that the joint bid of Australia and New Zealand, considering the audience and facilities, would have overwhelming merit,” he said.

The 2017 World Cup final is not assured for Brisbane, or even Australia. “It’ll come down to competitive tenders,” said Carter.

“There is no reason whatsoever why the World Cup final cannot be held in New Zealand.”

As for the qualification process and number of teams in 2017 … it’s too early for that. The RLEF has said that the European Shield, now being contested over two years, will act as a qualifying tournament in 2014 and 2015.

Of course, the reason all this discussion took place in Canberra in mid-April is that there happened to be a game on. Canberra was awarded the Anzac Test because it is the city’s centenary and we were rewarded with a sold-out 25,628 crowd.

The Kiwis had a wretched build-up. Injuries disqualified Benji Marshall and Sonny Bill Williams from selection, Krisnan Inu was under spear tackle ban and captain Simon Mannering was ruled out with a calf injury on match eve.

But despite having three first half tries disallowed, the scores were 6-6 at halftime. Then the Australians made a minor tactical adjustment at halftime.

“We definitely readjusted our gameplan in that second half,” said halfback Cooper Cronk.

“The conditions play a part in terms of New Zealand playing field position and (being) camped on our line. We threw a few long passes in that first half which allowed the New Zealand rushing defence to shut us down.

“We shortened things up (in the second half), played down the middle third of the field and obviously used the wind behind us.”

Whereas in Townsville last October, the Kiwis looked like they would have won if given more time, on this occasion the impressive Australians triumphed going away.

On the morning of the game, the Daily Telegraph reported that the 2015 Lions would face a combined Anzac side to mark the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli – in April, months before the proposed GB tour.

“Some things do get discussed without really being considered seriously,” Carter said when asked about the idea.

“There was a light-hearted suggestion that … “well they invited us to a Turkish beach back then, so we might reciprocate.”

Filed for: FORTY20 MAGAZINE