October 23, 2013

Horse 1557 - The 2013 Rugby League World Cup - What's The Point?

The Rugby League World Cup is held every five years; so I want you to cast your minds back to 2008. New Zealand beat Australian 34–20 in what was generally regarded as an upset. How about 5 years before that? Do you remember the 2003 Rugby League World Cup? Of course not - there wasn't any.

Rugby League at international level is a strange sort of thing. In between stop-starts of Tri-Nations and Four-Nations tournaments, the Rugby League World Cup is really a half-thought-out affair. The main reason for this is that the only three nations who stand any real chance at winning are Australia and New Zealand and maybe England. Of those three, in Australia the national side isn't the highest level of the game (State of Origin probably is) and New Zealand and England don't really care about Rugby League at international level - for them Rugby is far more important.

Compare this with the football World Cup. Admittedly since 1930 only 8 nations have ever won it. This still doesn't change the fact that for most of the world, people care about qualifying for the next one as far away in time as three years. If Iceland qualifies for the 2014 edition in Brazil, it will probably induce scenes of rejoicing on the streets of Reykjavík. If Brazil don't win the 2014 tournament, I'm willing to suggest that unfortunately, either some of the players or managers will be killed. Heck even in Australia, we've fired the national manager on the back of just two poor performances, even though he'd got the national side to qualify.
The point I'm making is that, does even the Australian Rugby League Commission really care about the Rugby League World Cup? Granted that the smaller nations do because it gives their players something to work towards but if the Rugby League World Cup did not occur for some reason, would they miss it? The experience of 2003 suggests otherwise to me.

Really from an economic perspective it makes little to no sense to have two codes competing for the same space. Arguably there is a lot of merit in simply abandoning the Rugby Leagues and Unions and amalgamating them into one. You'd still end up with only four teams who have a realistic chance of winning any world cup but they'd also include South Africa.
At a state level, the provincial sides are already represented and if the State of Origin is really that important, then it could held as an aside to the regular season.

As far as the supporters go, then they support clubs rather than the game itself. The most obvious evidence for this is South Sydney and St George fans who like to tell you of their "glory days" despite them playing what amounts to a different set of rules.
I also point to the success of South Sydney in clawing their way back into the competition and compare that to the total and utter alienation of North Sydney fans once they'd been kicked out. Where does their place today?
What about at national level?

If Sonny Bill Williams is anything to go by, I'm sure that his two Bledisloe Cup wins and the 2011 Rugby World Cup win with the All Blacks, would easily hold far more prestige than the 2013 NRL Premiership with the Roosters or even the 2013 Rugby League World Cup would.
Likewise, if Israel Folau thought that playing for Queensland in  Rugby League was such an honour, why is he now playing for the New South Wales Waratahs in Rugby? Obviously if playing for the state was the be all and end all, then shouldn't he be playing for the Queensland Reds? Also and more importantly, I want to know from his perspective which is more valuable, a Kangaroo or Wallaby jersey? I suspect that the relative worth of the jersey should by inference tell us the relative worth of the respective world cup.

Therein lies the reason why I just don't understand why the Rugby League World Cup needs to be held at all. If it's not the highest level of the game, then it is by definition, not the best that the game has to offer. If the Rugby World Cup is the highest level of the game, then that suggests to me that there is a lot of scope to dovetail the two codes and end the 118 year split. If the players themselves aren't bothered and the fans either don't bother or wouldn't terribly be bothered, then why bother at all?
What is the point of the Rugby League World Cup? I'm afraid, I just don't see it.

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