The World Club series was played over the weekend and both Super League clubs beat their NRL counterparts pretty easily.
As always, and no matter what the result is, the analysis of the series and of the Australian game has been hyperbolic, ridiculous and ill informed, especially on behalf of the English media. Would you expect anything different from the English media? Of course not.
There seems to be two main lines of thinking in all of these very emotional responses.
The first is to attack Australia, making up story lines about why NRL clubs don’t care too much for these games, and strangely enough, attacking the style of game NRL teams play based on what amounts to trial games for these clubs played in February.
The second is to push for expansion of the World Club series. To stress how important it is. To suggest that Rugby League across the world revolves around these contests.
What goes missing in these emotional attacks is really quite obvious. You can not force NRL clubs to care about something they don’t care about.
Australia is funny in the way that it approaches sport. We tend to have a flavour of the month every so often. God help us when we get a bee under our bonnet and want to make something happen on the sporting field. We pour massive resources into sporting pursuits and we do not stop until we have achieved our goal.
The America’s Cup. It was impossible to break the reign of the American syndicates. We did it, then we moved on.
Winning the 500cc Motorcycle World Championship? We got there, did it, eventually dominated it, and moved on.
Beating the great Cricket teams from the West Indies, on home soil and away….it took a while but we did it. Then we moved on.
Winning the right to host the Olympic Games? We pushed for it, did it, hosted it, and then moved on.
We wanted to have an Australian driver in the Formula One World Championship. We looked for the right driver. We backed them. We pushed for them to get a start. It took an Australian to own a small F1 team to get an Aussie driver on the grid. It happened. He did well. He won some races. We eventually got a second Australian on the grid. Then we moved on.
Fighting our way through a ridiculous qualification process to take part in the Soccer World Cup? It took well over a decade, but we got there, enjoyed the ride, and then we moved on.
You get the picture…
The moving on part is really important here because it is a curious part of the Australian sports psyche. You see, something can become a national sporting obsession in this country. It can mean everything to everyone. That popularity of an event, or a sporting pursuit, can quickly be left behind as the focus moves elsewhere.
Swimming in Australia at one point use to be shown in prime time on free to air television. Swimmers use to make millions in endorsements from the attention the sport received. Now Swimming Australia is flat out getting anyone to cover events live outside of the Olympics..and even then Swimming doesn’t get the attention it once did.
As a nation, we move on to new pursuits. We start looking for new dragons to slay.
I’d suggest that right now Australian sport only has one main trigger point. We want to host the Soccer World Cup. Good luck making that happen with the way FIFA is run.
The problem for English Rugby League is that is doesn’t stir us up at all. It is pretty easy to understand why. English Rugby League, once upon a time a dragon we did get obsessed with slaying, has not offered us a real challenge in nearly a lifetime.
English Rugby League administrators, players and media can talk a big game all day, but the results at international level are abysmal when compared to Australia.
There is a reason why Australia see’s England as an easy beat, and why the English talk of famous one off victories they witnessed once a decade that you just had to be there to enjoy!
For England, beating Australia in Rugby League, really beating them, that is a dragon to slay. It is far from a national obsession as most of Britain doesn’t care about English Rugby League at all, but for the people involved in the game over there, they’d take beating Australia in a World Cup final over pretty much anything their own clubs could achieve.
In Australia, we just don’t feel the same way about it. Don’t get me wrong, we would be completely embarrassed to lose in a World Cup Final against England, but it isn’t because we see them as being special at all. Its the same reaction we would have losing to France or Samoa…pretty much anyone that isn’t New Zealand.
There is no way to force NRL clubs, players, supporters and sponsors to value games against Super League teams played in February. England can talk all day, make threats, try to embarrass clubs…..you can not force people to care about something they do not care about.
So what would I do if I wanted to set up a World Club Challenge and I eventually wanted Australia to give a shit?
I’d ignore Australia.
You set up a World Club Challenge without NRL clubs and you make it successful. You invite every top level club from nations all over the world. No matter what level of competition they are at, you invite them. The French champions. The Italian champions. The Canadian champions. The United States champions. The New Zealand champions. Hell I’d invite the winners of the game between the NSWRL and QLR competitions, effectively the NRL reserve grade champions.
In other words, if I’m the RFL, I stop looking for the grand cure to all their ills to come from outsiders. The RFL needs to build success themselves.
Make this tournament a feature of the season. Have all of these other competitions looking forward to heading to England to take part in this tournament.
How competitive will it be? Lets find out!
I would have the lower ranked clubs starting off the tournament and I’d be happy enough to see (In a knockout style comp) the Super League champions and maybe the winner of the NSWRL vs QRL game to start off in the semi finals of the competition on either side of the draw.
Play it, win it, and then proudly proclaim your winners the World Club Champions.
As an Australian…I know what my reaction to all of that would be. To see a proper World Club Championship taking place. One that really does bring the Rugby League playing world together. One that allows so many competitions to take part. So many different nations. All of it ending in a World Champion being crowned….
I want to be part of that!
Having titles on offer in February is just silly. There is a reason we hand out trophies at the end of the season and not at the beginning.
If the RFL want to really get Australia’s attention, give them a dragon to slay. Give them a real competition to win. Don’t NEED them. Build something positive. Build something on a grand scale. Build something that a nation other than just England feels is important.
When you do that, Australia and its clubs will start to take an interest.