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

TRAVELS: XII

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD

NO doubt some of you will not want me to write about the proposed restructuring of Super League, just because I’m Australian.

If that’s you, I kindly invite you to skip to the second and third items of this column which hopefully you will find informative and/or entertaining.

To those of you who are still here … well, where do we start? It seems to me there are two extremes when it comes to competition structures.

One extreme is the American system of big city clubs, drafts, salary caps and definitely no promotion and relegation. It’s a form of socialism, I guess

The other is anyone who can raise enough money to put a team on the park enters the lower leagues and works their way up. No salary cap, no draft. It’s complete capitalism.

Our sport, in the NRL and Super League, historically floats between these two poles, swinging back and forth towards one, then the other, over the years.

To an Australian, promotion and relegation seems a form of madness. Our population is too small and our resources too limited to waste on teams that are outside the elite, but hoping to get in. That money, to us, would be much better spent on junior development and promoting the elite teams we already have.

But I accept that promotion and relegation is, to quote colleague Jack Dearden, “the essence of the British sporting DNA”. I’m not going to alienate the majority of readers by summarily dismissing it.

So which of the three proposals is the right one, or closest to the right scenario for the game?

What does Super League need? It needs to stop bleeding money. It needs to eliminate meaningless games. It needs more uncertainty of results. It needs to maintain and improve a national (and international) presence.

Keeping the salary cap at Stg1.5 million but introducing a marquee player allowance (I’m told the player would go into the cap at a set amount but could be payed anything) serves the first objective. Something similar happens in Australian soccer, with Alexander Del Piero earning as much as the salary cap of two clubs.

Cutting the league back to 12 or 10 teams should serve the second objective. The third objective would be aided by combining the first two measures – you should not be allowed into Super League 1 unless you can illustrate you can – and will – spend Stg1.8 million on players each year.

If that means an eight- or nine-team league in 2014, then sobeit.

The last objective is tricky. Do we keep London Broncos in the top flight just because they’re in London? I’d argue their crowds are so poor that the dedicated band of fans that currently follows them would still go if they were in Super League 2.

But I’d hate to think they could not ever win their way back into the top flight.

I don’t know where you would get 24 teams to fill a double-decker Super League. Sure, the number of teams at the elite level needs to come down but you have the worst two Super League clubs playing alongside the top 10 in the championship, are people really going to swallow that as “Super League 2”?

Will any of the clubs in that competition be better off than they are now? And I’ll throw this back at the readers – if your team ends up in the bottom division of eight halfway through the season, will you be excited about the possibility of them winning that “also-ran” division and be more likely to go to matches?

That’s not a leading question – I am genuinely interested in the answer.

That’s option three. Option one is a 12-teams Super League with one side promoted and relegated each year.

Option two is two divisions of 10 with no guaranteed promotion and relegation.

None of the options are perfect but if pushed, I’d vote for number one – two 12 team leagues, with one side promoted and one relegated each year.

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IF you’ve picked up your copy of Forty20 magazine you’ll have seen some pretty interesting stuff regarding the international schedule heading up to 2017.

Much interest surrounds the return of Great Britain in 2015, with a tour of the southern hemisphere taking in two Tests each against Australia and New Zealand along with midweek games.

But the intriguing comment from RLIF chairman Scott Carter concerns the following season, when there is supposed to be a Four Nations in the northern hemisphere.

Carter reveals one alternative that’s been thrown up is having incoming tours from Australia and New Zealand at the same time, each playing Tests against England – and presumably other Home Nations.

It would be sort of like rugby union’s grand slam. Personally I really like this idea – particularly as it would encourage players to stick with Ireland, Scotland and Wales after the World Cup.

What do you think?

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IT’S not being reported but there is a steady flow of NRL stars currently pledging their allegiance to developing countries for the World Cup.

read on

RLIF Challenges Australia To Fix Eligibility Mess

By STEVE MASCORD
INTERNATIONAL Federation chairman Scott Carter last night challenged Australia to stop foreigners playing Origin, let Queensland and NSW stars represent other countries or just come clean and admit they are using cash to strengthen the green and golds.
Hours before Saturday’s trans-Tasman Test at Dairy Farmers Stadium, a milestone meeting between officials from both sides of the Tasman will attempt to sort out what has become an unbridled eligibility mess.
Carter, who is also the chairman of the NZRL, told the Sydney Morning Herald it was completely Australia’s responsibility to fix the situation – but it had to be done by the start of next season.
“We believe the current sitation is tarnishing Origin and disenfranchising genuine Australians who want to represent their state,” Carter said.
“(ARLC chairman) John Grant initially said this was a matter for the international board but it’s Australia who compell players who want to play Origin to make themselves available for Australia.
“It’s a domestic protocol in Australia. There is absolutely nothing to stop other countries selecting Origin players who qualify for them as well.
“That being the case, Australia are using Origin to strengthen their national team. We’ll have to wait and see what they come up with on Saturday. I won’t hold them to a deadline of this week but whatever happens, it needs to be sorted out by next year.
“There is definitely an expectation that Australia will move to protect Origin and stop the damage being done to the international game.”
The tough-talking Carter insisted players chosing Origin over New Zealand or another country and then being tied to Australia was “about money – and nothing else”.
“The thing is, Australia don’t need to do this,” he said. “They can field three competitive international teams without using Origin and money to attract the best players.
“I can understand why a player would want to play Origin – but why force him to play for Australia? If they want to dilute Origin, that is a matter for them. Let the players still play for another country. On the other had, it’s not state of residency, it’s State of Origin. It has history and tradition.
“We’ll see what they’ve come up with. If nothing was to change, then the ARL has to admit it is using the lure of Origin, and the financial rewards involved, to recruit players.”
Saturday’s game is a test in the other sense of the word – a test for the current confusion over eligibility. James Tamou represented the Maori but was recruited by NSW captain Paul Gallen and picked for Australia, while Kiwis prop Sam Kasiano only turned down overtures from Queensland last week.
It’s understood any changes to the rules would not be retrospective, meaning players like Kasiano and Tamou would be allowed to continue representing the country of their choice.
Carter said the RLIF in November would discuss two issues that it did have jurisdiction over – residency and junior qualification.
“Does playing under 20s for a country commit you to the senior team?” he said. “And when does your eligibility start? We have players who have been in a country two years and nine months and at the moment that’s deemed to be ‘close enough’.
“Is it when they play their first game, or when they touch down? What if they go home as soon as the season is over?”
New Zealand finalised its site yesterday and will shift camp from Cairns to Townsville today, while a slight hamstring twinge to utility Tony Williams was the only news for the Australians, who posed for a team photo in the morning, trained at Townsville Sports Reserve immediately afterwards and returned for a well-attended coaching clinic in the afternoon.
Australia lock Paul Gallen, unable to train during the NRL finals because of niggling injuries, said he hadn’t missed a session all week in Townsville.
Cronulla’s Gallen joined team-mates in backing coach Tim Sheens to be retained. “Sheensy’s done a really good job and I know he really wants to do the World Cup next year,” he said.
“if we have success on the weekend and we have success in the first part of next year, I don’t see that there’s any reason to change the coach.”