The 2010 Rugby League Four Nations has been disappointing.
The quality of football has been dreadful and when only two of the four teams have ANY chance of winning the tournament, you have to think of other ways to grab the public’s attention. People want to see a decent contest, you can’t sell people rubbish and then wonder why they are not turning up.
The original idea behind the Three Nations was to get New Zealand and England playing regular games against Australia, and hopefully that would help them step up to Australia’s level. Many pointed to New Zealands 2005 series win as an indicator that the concept was successful, and while there is no doubt the concept has helped New Zealand develop sides over the course of a meaningful competition, you have to question if anything else has come from it.
New Zealands push towards the 2008 World Cup was on the back of a group of players who had played their entire careers in the NRL. Playing quality football week in and week out, they were equals against their Australian counterparts.
After the 2008 World Cup, the Three Nations was extended to Four Nations, with the idea that France and Papua New Guinea would benefit from playing higher quality opposition. The idea was sound, but at the end of the day you can’t overcome failure in other areas just by playing regular matches.
There is now a push on to cut back to the Three Nations format, with other series such as the Pacific or European Cup played alongside the major tournament.
I think for now, this is the way to go.
What needs to be realized is, playing regular international football is not the only way to improve other nations. In fact, in Frances case, their increased profile only accelerated many some of the negative influences on their game as leeches from other countries saw opportunity in their higher profile.
If the ARL, NZRL and RFL really want to improve other nations, they need to do actual work, not just throw these teams unprepared into test matches to watch them get lapped.
If you had reservations about Papua New Guinea’s performance this year, wait until 2011 when Wales join the competition. To say they are going to be off the pace is an understatement.
I think cutting back to a Three Nations format is a good idea. You get more quality games, all teams play each other twice, and then hold a final.
I also thing we should be playing a second tier Three Nations tournament alongside the main one, with games in that competition played as curtain raisers. Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea when its in the Southern Hemisphere. When its played in the North, France vs Wales and Scotland.
When in the years the tournament is held away from a region, those second tier teams would then play their fully blown Pacific or European Cup, which would then get Fiji, the Cook Islands, Ireland and the like playing games.
The biggest changes however need to come via coaching. Smaller Rugby League nations are so poorly coached. In fact you could make a case that only two international teams have decent coaching, Australia and New Zealand. Thats just not good enough.
Something also needs to be done to help England develop Super League beyond what it is. The RFL needs to open its doors to its rivals, sit down and ask them what changes they should be making.
The NZRL needs to develop their local competition further and making its a viable option, not only for New Zealand players, but also for Pacific Islanders. It needs to be a stepping stone towards NRL competition.
Meanwhile in PNG, their club competition, which was revamped a few years ago, needs more support. Obviously there are issues in PNG that go beyond football, but is the quality of their club competition is raised just a fraction, it will be a step closer to making their test side competitive.
Long gone are the days when an international side could come out of no where and put on an amazing effort. You need to put in grass roots development, and this is where a real international governing body would be stepping in and doing the hard yards.
Better coaching and better training would go a long way to helping international Rugby League develop further. To get to 2010 and still have England lagging badly in both areas is just laughable.
If there is such thing as the Rugby League International Federation, they need to do more than hold meetings in Singapore and pump out game schedules. They need to do some honest, hard work and teach emerging nations the demands that are required to play against Australia and New Zealand.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com