The NRL’s push to have a National Youth Competition for Under 20’s players has seen some very good, well prepared players come into the NRL ranks over the last few years and show they are ready for first grade right from the get go.
These young players get a chance to play representative football, but it would be so easy to capitalize on this incredible talent pool and give them an experience that would no doubt make them better prepared for representative honours further down the track.
It is now time for Rugby League to install an Under 20’s World Cup, hosted in Australia and New Zealand every two years.
I think the best way to have an Under 20’s World Cup is to start off small. Don’t over reach and don’t feel the need to move it all over the place just for the sake of moving it.
Played Every Two Years
I would play the Under 20’s World Cup every two year. Why? Because at the junior level players come and go very quickly. Very few young players are going to play in more than one World Cup, and you want as many youngsters to get the experience under their best as you can possibly get.
Always Played In Australia Or New Zealand
The majority of the teams will be from the Southern Hemisphere with the majority of the players based in Australia or New Zealand.
Keep in mind, these boys are Under 20 years of age. You want to cut down on the length of time they are away from their families every chance you can get.
I also think it would do the northern hemisphere youngsters good to come down to Australia and New Zealand earlier in their careers, get used to the conditions here, and got some experience of southern hemisphere Rugby League, something they would never normally get.
How Many Teams?
I would start off basic with just 8 teams taking part in the first Under 20’s World Cup. Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, PNG, England, Wales and France.
With those teams involved you only have three teams doing a big trip to Australia or New Zealand. Papua New Guinea’s representation would be the only real question mark among the teams I’ve named. I’m guessing funding may be an issue for them.
I would keep things very simple. You could play a straight knockout competition which would see at most the competition run over four weeks.
You could have two groups of 4, that means everyone plays three games at the very least, and then either have the top 2 from each group advance or, if you wanted to keep it as short as possible, just the top team from each group going through to the final.
Getting younger players experience against other young players from around the world would be invaluable, especially for northern hemisphere teams.
I think you would also see it become a stepping stone for senior representation. A youngster that has represented his country of birth or heritage at an Under 20’s World Cup I believe would be more likely to stick with that decision going through to the senior level. That could only be a good thing for international Rugby League.
Why Hasn’t It Happened Already?
It is amazing to think that a junior World Cup hasn’t been in place for decades. As administrators keep trying to build the international game from the top down, here you have a number of semi professional youngsters who are already in a professional environment being left to play nothing more than the odd series of representative games here and there.
The elite youngsters in our game deserve to be able to aim for higher goals. It is time for an Under 20’s World Cup top be introduced.
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