What is the point of the rugby league World Cup?
Let's start by making one thing clear - I am a massive fan of rugby league. I think it is a brilliant sport - physically challenging yet incredibly skilful and fast - and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men (and women) who play it.
The problem is that a lot of the people I know aren't really all that keen on the game and seem to regard the forthcoming World Cup in Australia as little short of a second-rate joke competition.
A few of their thoughts, in no particular order:
The last World Cup in 2000 was a disaster, both financially and as a competition.
How often do they take place anyway?
What weird format, requiring a post grad in logistics to understand it, is being used this time?
And what about the teams - will it be full of nations that I never knew played the game comprising fifth-rate Aussies, such as Lebanon in 2000?
How many players have changed nationality for this World Cup?
And anyway, only a tiny handful of teams can win it? That is if we're being really generous. Let's be honest it will be a boring one-sided procession for the host nation. No one cares, not even the Aussies - and they are going to romp it.
For on some points above, there is no strong defence. What I find most embarrassing is both the ease and frequency with which players change nationalities. Anthony Tupou, for example, had been named in the Tonga squad but following an injury to Michael Crocker has now been called into the Australian 24. Plenty of players from Tonga and Samoa have previously played for New Zealand, while Mark Calderwood was all set to represent Scotland before a late-season run of form earned him an England call-up.
The number of English and Australian players in the Scotland and Ireland squads doesn't really help matters either.
And let's not kid ourselves, the World Cup in 2000 was a huge disappointment. It lost money and provided ammunition to the sport's many knockers. Even the unseasonably atrocious weather conspired against the tournament.
But hold on a minute. The game has made massive strides since 2000 and this World Cup deserves to be judged on the quality of its organisation and the standard and excitement of the product it delivers.
A more co-ordinated approach between the major nations has resulted in longer-term planning and a clear idea that the game must be developed at international level. Some of this can be traced back to the appointment of Richard Lewis as the RFL's executive chairman in 2002. England had the option to stage a World Cup in 2005 but when Lewis arrived he quickly kicked that into touch.
"Instead we decided to put building blocks in place, with a regular international calendar, both at the top level and the second tier," Lewis told me.
Since the last World Cup we have had regular Tri-Nations and various qualifying tournaments for the developing sides. In the past teams have been put together at the 11th hour but this should ensure all the 10 teams at the tournament have a real sense of identity and purpose. Lewis, also deputy chair of the Rugby League International Federation, has outlined a 10-year-plan that sees further World Cups staged at five-year intervals with various tours for the major nations and smaller competitions for the developing nations taking place in between.
"I'm absolutely confident that as every World Cup cycle goes by, more and more nations will be competitive with the big three of Australia, New Zealand and England," added Lewis.
"Union has taken the bull by the horns and made it a huge event," reckons Morley. "Rugby league needs to make everyone sit up and take notice of what a great spectacle it really is. Make it bigger and better."
He has a fair point but let us not forget that the union tournament has not always been the huge spectacle it is now. In 1987 the New Zealand team were apparently billeted out to local families for the duration of the tournament. But what union has done is grow tournament upon tournament - and this is precisely what Lewis is hinting at when he talks of "building blocks" for the future.
But what of the structure of the tournament? Initially it looks confusing, but if you have a proper look at it you will see there is method behind the madness.
It has been weighted so that the big three plus a very useful Papua New Guinea side are in Pool One. This guarantees competitive, heavyweight fixtures every weekend, with three teams qualifying for the last four. Six other nations comprise Pool Two and Pool Three. The winners from each will meet in a play-off for the final semi-final spot. The advantage of this is that the competition should avoid many of the processional and extremely boring hammerings that both rugby codes have suffered from in the past. Tonga's match against Samoa in Pool Two, for example, has the look of a very tasty group decider.
Just think about it for a minute. How many top-level nations do you need to produce a competitive and exciting World Cup? How many countries, for example, realistically stand a chance of winning the rugby union World Cup?
And with the big three plus several other strong developing sides in the tournament, the ingredients are there for an intense competition.
Standing against this is the view that an Australian victory is inevitable. After all, they have won nine of the 12 World Cups so far. But New Zealand to a 24-0 victory over Australia in the final of the 2005 Tri-Nations - evidence in itself that the Kangaroos are anything but invincible. And Brian McClennan, the coach of that conquering Kiwi side, recently claimed that Australia "are there to be beaten". He added: "The invincible tag has gone, whoever gets to the final can be confident of beating them".
Morley believes it is utter rubbish to suggest the result is a foregone conclusion. The Aussies, predictably, see matters differently. A member of the coaching staff at an NRL club told me the only way the Kanagroos would fail to win is if they lost their focus while Tony Rea, who spent many years playing for and then coaching London Broncos and is now back in Australia as assistant coach of union outfit Brumbies, said the Aussie public were in upbeat mood. When I asked him whether anyone down under thought Australia would fail to win he said: "No. Everyone is very, very confident." Yet he added: "But that doesn't matter, I think England will be right in it."
Lewis thinks it is crucial the tournament is correctly marketed and promoted and has a sensible fixture list. I, for one, am confident these criteria will be met. This is the centenary year of the game in Australia and the governing bodies have gone all out to make this World Cup succeed. The Australians proved with the 2000 Olympics that they know how to deliver a big tournament and they will do so once again. The sale of television rights, as well as advance ticket and corporate sales suggest this tournament will make a profit.
As for media coverage, Rea reckons that every day now the back three pages of the newspapers have daily pieces about the tournament and that everyone knows who has made the Australia squad. Even Scotland's pool match against France in Canberra, not exactly game of the tournament, has created a buzz about the place, according to Rea. Make no mistake, the Australians are looking forward to the World Cup.
Morley hopes it will start a process that leads to the rugby league World Cup becoming "one of the major sporting events in the world". That is a long way down the road but I do have hopes for this tournament. I'm hoping for plenty of exciting games, some intense drama and a few shocks. I also hope the tournament proves that there is life for rugby league at international level and that the sport can organise a World Cup worthy of the name.
I just hope that when I go down the pub after it has finished my mates begrudgingly admit it was a decent spectacle. Or perhaps, say nothing about it at all.