The last World Cup wasn’t exactly a rip-roaring success. Financially, it managed to set back the international scene all on its own. On the field, the standard of play varied too much from team to team, so the tournament became open to criticisms of diluting the standard with sub-par sides just to make up the numbers (of course, every sporting tournament has minnow sides with no chance of winning it, but hey, whatever…). Perhaps worst of all though, it perpetuated this belief that most of the sides were just Aussies masquarading as other nationalities for a holiday (why they would want to holiday in Britain during its wettest autumn ever is another matter entirely). Okay, so many of the teams were boosted with players from Super League and the NRL, but they were still. It sends out a message that playing for your country is a closed shop, that there is no room in the game for ‘native’ players. At the very least, you should try to make the effort to show a link to the country you are representing.
This is why it is good to see plenty of press attention given to the likes of Paddy Coupar for Scotland, and Steve Gibbons and Wayne Kerr (I know, I know) for Ireland. Hearing an Irish accent on a news broadcast instead of an Aussie or English accent sends out a much more positive message. It also sends out the message that there is a potential player pool from within these countries. Okay, they might not be at the required standard yet, but given time to grow and develop, who knows?
This is a sign that the people at the Celtic nations have actually been learning lessons from their mistakes, and it leaves people less inclined to attack them for their use of eligibility rules. I remember reading somewhere (I’m pretty sure it was in Rugby League World) that Brian Carney should have had a sore throat by the end of the last World Cup. Now I don’t want to go that far (especially since I’m suffering though one right now, and it ain’t pleasant), but as long as this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the likes of Coupar and Kerr in this tournament, then it should be possible to play out a positive message about the potential for Rugby League in these nations, and the possibilities for the native players from the likes of Ireland and Scotland.
Incidentally, what are the odds on Kerr scoring at the World Cup? He scored in nearly every London Skolars game I went to see last year. It’s obviously the Rugby Gods toying with stadium PA announcers… Wayne appears to be the Gods’ vessel of torment.