By STEVE MASCORD
AMNRL boss David Niu has broken his silence over the American game’s civil war, saying he expects there to still be two competitions next year but expressing a hope there is just one.
In an exclusive interview with Bondi Beat in the middle of Campbell’s Field at Camden, New Jersey during the recent World Cup qualifiers, Niu has made it clear he wants peace in the fractured US game. He also says his policy of not picking players from the rebel competition for the United States national team will be reviewed.
Niu had declined to be interviewed in any detail since the USRL broken away from the AMNRL at the start of the year.
Asked about the possibility of dual competitions next year, he said: “If I was a betting man, I’d say there’d be two. But as a person connected with the game, I’m hoping there’s going to be one.
“In respect to whatever is happening in our league domestically, things will come back together sooner that what people think.
“If some of the principals from both sides sit down and talk about it, it only makes sense. We’ve done some good things this year. People out in the west are interested in the game and things are happening in the mid-west. The two competitions have sort of overlapped. We’ve both got teams in the same areas – Pensylvania, New York and Connecticut. It kind of makes sense to try and work something out together again.”
In what could be interpreted as an olive branch, Niu says both the AMNRL and USRL have suffered as a result of the ugly split.
“It’s exactly what I expected – with two competitions, I thought the standard of the leagues was was diluted. No doubt about it. Our New York team are a really good team and I would have liked to have seen them play in a united competition. The effort and the performances they put on the field deserved that. But things happen. Somewhere along the line, we get together and work something out.
“That’s no challenge to me on a personal level. On a performance level for the teams, things could be better. It’s a disappointing. I’ve enjoyed the game and the growth of the game over many years here and the people in the game here have been involved in that in various layers. It just takes time. I think this year really gave those guys some experiences and perspective in what it’s like to get out and run your own competition and make things work the way they would like them to work.
“They experienced some challenges. We certainly did. There’s no doubt about that. I’m the first one to admit that and the first one to believe that there’s still a long way to go, even in a united competition here. There’s still a long, long way to go for us to be (even) a semi-professional group.”
Despite reported advice to the contrary from the Rugby League European Federation, the AMNL excluded players at rebel clubs from national selection. Captain Apple Pope quit the Jacksonville Axemen to keep his post.
Again, Niu was conciliatory in tone on this issue.
“It’s a really good question and it’s one I’ve thought a lot about and we’ve had many, many discussions about it,” he said. “But in light of how it all happened and how it all split, I think it was the right thing to do. You know, we had people who stood by us and were loyal to what we had achieved over many, many years. They deserved the right have a voice and be recognised. It was very, very difficult to run two competitions, be part of one and select guys from another.
“And I don’t think what we’re doing here (at the World Cup qualifiers) at the moment validates any of that, whether it was right or wrong. I think it was the best course of action for our organisation.
“If we win this thing and go through, it doesn’t mean that David Niu and his group were right about the selection of those teams and how this team was selected. I think there’s plenty more thought that needs to be put into it, plenty more discussion that needs to be had because the bottom line is that it wasn’t the players who were involved in the separation, it was administrators.
“We made a decision and stood by it. It would have been easy for us to waiver along the way on a lot of things but once we knew this was going on, we took a position and we stuck with it. I’m proud of the fact that our guys did that and came through it. We could quite easily have folded mate. You made the reference to the ARL (Super League war) – it felt a little bit like that. It kinda came out of the blue and we hung in there.”
Niu said no peace talks were currently planned.
A LOOK back at last month’s column is a good insight into the wild, weird world of international rugby league.
“George Carmont running lines in Limerick”? Samoan tour called off. “Clint Newton wearing a new jersey in New Jersey”? Didn’t play. “Anthony Minichiello catching bombs in Serbia”? Check.
“New Zealand visit the Cook Islands for the first time” Didn’t happen
Perhaps it was pessimism from years of this stuff that prompted me to predict Gareth Thomas would have no involvement in post-season internationals. Thankfully, he did.
Having matches cancelled as late in the piece as the Samoan tour and the New Zealand-Cook Islands game is deeply embarrassing. I went to the Cooks anyway and believe the Kiwis could have at least mustered a Prime Minister’s XIII. They played against Australia 10 days later.
There’s not much that can be done when a government withdraws support as the Samoans did. But the fact we don’t have the funds as a global game to pick up the tab in such circumstances is also embarrassing.
Sadly, the Rugby League European Federation is – as we sit here in November 2012, far more robust than the Rugby League International Federation. Had Samoa been in Europe – OK, that’s a pretty big ‘if’ – chances are the tour would have been salvaged.
Lessons? The same old ones. New Zealand should probably have been fined for not fulfilling its obligations. Samoa should have been offered the chance to borrow money from the RLIF to complete its obligations.
Give the RLIF an office, a staff, the chance to sell its own sponsorships and TV rights. Do it now.
YOU would have expected something about international eligibility when you turned to this column.
My first thoughts when Rangi Chase was chosen by England were that the residency rule does nothing for international rugby league, aside from France, because all the good players gravitate towards Australia and England, who are already strong.
But here are a couple of fresh thoughts. 1 New Zealand needed the residency rule to strengthen a couple of positions when they choose Nathan Fien and Brent Webb. They went on to be world champions.
So if Rangi Chase fills a hole for England and they win a tournament, fine.
But then, let’s push the time necessary to qualify for selection on residency grounds out from three years to five as soon as we can.
PS: I’ve now got a podcast. Search ‘stevemascord.com’ and ‘White Line Fever’ on iTunes.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD