The Rugby League World Cup

And I like it, I like it, I like it, I like it
I li-li-li-like it, li-li-li-like it
Here we go
Rockin’ all over the world

-Status Quo

I’m a sucker for big international tournaments, in any sport. I’ll watch every match, every highlights show, and read all the wall-to-wall coverage. So as you can imagine, when the premier competition for my sport of choice turns up, I get pretty excited. Alas, for a variety of reasons, it seems lacking in wall-to-wall coverage.

Indeed, there’s a worrying amount of negative press about the Rugby League World Cup. Many people are critical of the superficial structure, which has essentially left six teams fighting for one Semi-Final spot, and which has left Papua New Guinea with the fight of their lives to make the knockout stages. Then there is the sniping about the eligibility rules and the make-up of many sides as what are perceived to be rejects and second-rate players. There are also attacks on the ‘transfer’ policy allowing players to swap nations. But perhaps most damaging of all, there is the whining that it’s all too predictable; Australia are going to waltz in and steam-roll through the opposition en route to their seventh straight trophy. Many of the criticisms are to be expected from people outside of the Rugby League fraternity, but what is most disappointing is the amount of criticism and apathy from people who are fans of the game. From some parties, there is just a worrying lack of enthusiasm for what really should be seen as the ultimate celebration of the greatness of the game, a pattern which has been prevalent in the international scene for some time now.

Like many things in the modern game, this apathy has its roots in the Super League saga. My personal take on it is this: Super League has been great for the club game in Britain, but it has really let down the international game. I think this is for three reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, it took internationals off of terrestrial television. I started watching Rugby League on the BBC, and in particular their coverage of of the Ashes and the 1995 World Cup. I drifted away from the game after that, partly because I was going through a football phase but also because Rugby League basically disappeared from the BBC except for the Challenge Cup. Sky’s coverage of the game is definitely better than the BBC’s (it’s really noticeable when watching Cup games) but their approach of scheduling internationals at 6pm puts off fans. Secondly, Super League encouraged a focus on the club game, and also with its encouragement of merger talks and curious decisions about certain clubs it fostered an atmosphere of parochialism and looking after one’s own interests first, in which the needs of the national team and the international game began to fall down the pecking order. Thirdly, it led to a brand of rugby that was barely above touch-and-pass, which was completely out of its depth when applied to Test football, and as a result Great Britain went from being so-very-nearly at the level of Australia to falling way behind the Kangaroos and New Zealand in the pecking order.

What could possibly be wrong with getting more opportunities to watch Darren Lockyer?

What could possibly be wrong with getting more opportunities to watch Darren Lockyer?

But you know what? Great Britain have pulled it back in the last five years or so, and the England team that takes their place in this World Cup will go into the competition with real, genuine hopes of winning it. New Zealand have already beaten the Kangaroos in a major final in that time as well, even if they haven’t quite been the same force since. Although I’m not particularly keen on the structure of this World Cup, I will at least admit that it will produce close, competitive games. None of the teams will be out of their depth, and this should mean that they all have an active part to play in this next month or so. Whilst the lack of ‘natives’ in some of the sides isn’t ideal, they have at least recruited many quality players. The eligibility rules are not particularly different to those found in other sports (although I will concede that the transfer rules are stupid) and the players that have been selected all seem to be motivated for the cause of their adopted nations. As long as the players are really up for doing their countries proud and not giving away an inch, then that’s all I really ask for in international Rugby League. I for one am looking forward to eighteen tight, brutal, captivating, hard-fought games.

So, in celebration of this World Cup, I’m going to go completely mental and provide you with the following things:

  • A multi-part history of the competition so far
  • A preview of each group
  • A preview of each team and their chances
  • Comment on any big news during the tournament
  • Live-blogging and scoring of matches
  • Reviews and comments on the matches played
  • Celebrations of any amazing bits of play
  • Derision of any stupid bits of play

I’m not sure yet whether I will be live-blogging every game or just the Group A games. I’ll certainly be doing England games, if for no other reason than I’m doing to want a distraction to ease the tension. I’ll almost certainly be watching every game live as well, so maybe I’ll find myself being bothered to score for every game after all.

My advice for anyone watching this World Cup is to just enjoy it while you can. Ignore the criticisms and the sniping that will take place and just focus on the games. Once this is over, there’s no more rugby league for a few months, and no international games for another year. The World Cup is supposed to be a spectacle that celebrates the game, and the qualities. It binds fans from all over the world together in their love of the game, and I hope every one of them joins me in loving every minute of the ride.

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