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How the World Cup's final flourish silenced its critics

Paul Fletcher | 09:14 UK time, Monday, 24 November 2008

New Zealand's stunning World Cup final victory over the red-hot Australians on Saturday was not only the biggest sporting upset in many a year but ranks as one of the most significant results in the history of rugby league.

It might sound fanciful, some might argue ridiculous, to suggest that one match can transform the legacy of a World Cup but the importance of the Kiwis' fully deserved triumph cannot be underestimated.

Not since Mike Tyson had the Iron taken out of his name by Buster Douglas in Tokyo in 1990 has such a hot favourite been dispatched in such dramatic fashion.

Not for nothing did Sydney's Sunday Telegraph describe it as the "upset of the century", while Australian great Gorden Tallis placed the match superbly into a wider context of the tournament as a whole when he said: "All the cynics that bagged it ... the final was one of the great games."

lockyer438.jpgThe result ensured that the 2008 Rugby League World Cup will be remembered for a final of true sporting theatre rather than a month-long procession for the home nation.

It rubbished the notion that the tournament was flawed from the outset and, it can only be hoped, will provide a much-needed boost for the game at international level.

As another Kangaroo legend Wally Lewis remarked after the final, the result was "fantastic for international rugby league, a real shot in the arm". Or as Kiwi team manager Dean Bell put it, the upset "gives everybody hope".

To understand its importance fully you have to appreciate that there has been an increasing body of opinion - with RFL executive chairman Richard Lewis as a lead cheerleader - that rugby league cannot grow without an established and meaningful international game.

The 2008 tournament, for example, was staged in Australia in the centenary year of the game in that country. Yet league down under has recently been rocked by a series of off-the-field scandals while players have defected to the cash riches of the 15-a-side code and attendances have been in decline as the game struggles to contend with competition from other sports - sports such as football and union that have a vibrant international scene.

They might not admit it but perhaps the Aussies need decent international competition more than ever. Maybe that was why Kangaroos coach Ricky Stuart was asked so often during the tournament whether his team could be beaten.

The previous Rugby League World Cup in 2000 had been a shambles, losing money and failing to inspire as a spectacle. Since then the game's administrators have put in place a structure to help develop the emerging nations and establish vibrant competition at the top level.

The 2008 version represented both an acid test of that progress and also an opportunity to show that the sport can organise a major tournament worthy of the name.

As Rugby League International Federation boss Colin Love said: "This tournament was always a starting point for bigger things in the years ahead."

It might have looked a little shaky on its legs at times, especially with Australia so dominant until the final, but the World Cup must be judged as a success.

A record profit of more than £2m will be invested back into the international game, with the focus on the developing nations, while there was a healthy average attendance in the region of 15,000.

The structure of the competition, which initially looked confusing, was also vindicated by a series of brilliant and bruising contests between the less-fancied countries.

The two groups of three teams comprising Fiji, Scotland and France, and Ireland, Tonga and Samoa both finished with all the teams separated only on points difference. Fiji reached the semi-final stage with some stories claiming demand to watch their match with Australia had led to the island selling out of satellite dishes.

The other group - containing Australia, New Zealand, England and Papua New Guinea - was a disappointment. It provided high-profile games every weekend but Australia simply blew everyone away at that stage of the competition, with former Kangaroos coach Chris Anderson claiming the host nation peaked too early.

But then again, with three teams to qualify it was always going to be about whether PNG could pull off an upset. They came close against England, who were by some margin the tournament's biggest disappointment.

They flew to Australia ready to establish a new world order but left beaten and bewildered. Armies have had more fun marching to Moscow.

As the weeks rolled on and England's scratchy win over PNG gave way to successive demoralising defeats against Australia and New Zealand (twice) it became obvious that the gap between Super League and the Aussie NRL (the competition from which all but one of the Kangaroo and Kiwis players were selected) was a chasm that coach Tony Smith's team had no hope of bridging.

You can blame Smith or his squad but the truth is the players out on the park just weren't good enough. Compare England's back division to Australia, take a deep breath and weep silently.

This leads on to one of the crux issues to emerge from the tournament - how should Super League change to ensure it produces players capable of competing at the highest level?hohaia438.jpg

Plenty of soul searching is now taking place. RFL boss Richard Lewis has already said that Super League will not seek to copy the way the game is played in the NRL, with its emphasis on defensive structure and a more conservative style of play.

Kangaroos coach Stuart has called for a reduction in imports, former Saints boss Daniel Anderson thinks the answer is a shorter domestic season and rugby league great Jason Robinson wants to see a two-week window in the Super League year when England play against the league's top foreign stars.

Anderson's point is hardly new, though that does not mean it isn't valid, while Stuart's is very interesting. There is the issue of whether imports could be legally restricted but it is not particular to rugby league. Football and rugby union are sports in which the impact of imports on the strength of the national team is a hotly debated topic.

There is also the crucial issue of the different interpretation of the rules between the two competitions. In the NRL players are able to lie-on in the tackle for a period of time that would see them penalised in Super League. This slows down the play-the-ball and allows the defensive structure to reform. It sounds boring but it is of huge significance.

All of England's games were refereed by Australians and although no excuse this obviously undermined Smith's team. If it hadn't, the coach would not have asked for a Super League official to take charge of their semi-final against New Zealand.
If the issue is not resolved it will fester and become a painful irritation to the development of the international game.

Not that the Kiwis are worrying about that after a final victory that means New Zealand's league team have now won the same number of World Cups as their more vaunted union counterparts.

Several Kiwis took time after their victory to praise the remarkable support they received from the 5,000 or so England fans inside the Suncorp Stadium.

After a month of disappointment they at last had something to cheer. It did not involve players wearing white but it was a significant step in the development of the international game.

It wasn't a perfect World Cup by any means, and not least because of England's failings. The tournament proved that the Australians are beatable - just not by England. What the international game needs more than ever is for Super League to produce a competitive England team - and at the moment that looks to be a very big ask.

But with a Four Nations tournament involving Australia, New Zealand, England and France planned for 2009, as well as a Pacific Nations Cup, and a further World Cup scheduled for 2013, the international game can move forward with increasing confidence.


  • Comment number 1.

    Great Article!

    The aim of this WC was not to claim we are a huge sport but to help develop what we already have. IMO it has achieved this significantly, even without the Kiwis fantastic victory on Saturday.

    If managed sensibly, the future can be even better - and we should ignore clowns calling the RLWC a 'waste of time' because they couldn't care less for RL

  • Comment number 2.

    The final was make or break for the competition and the closeness and quality on show just tips the balance in the positive.

    The whining from the Aussie camp today is priceless, bleating that they were "stitched up" and that the organisers wanted them to lose. And they call us whingers!

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't think people should fool themselves that one great match makes a great tournament.
    In some ways, the reaction to the final result mirrors the weaknesses of league as an international sport. The fact that it can be considered one of the upsets of all time when the second best team beats the best team clearly shows the limitations of the tournament.
    And the fans would seem to agree - gaping banks of empty seats at nearly every game (some in relatively small stadia) indicates the world cup failed to capture the imagination.
    Don't get me wrong, I like rugby league, but it is - and always will be - a club sport. It should concentrate on improving what it already does well, rather than trying to morph into something it never will be.

  • Comment number 4.

    Sorry, but this one result did not 'rubbish the notion that this tournament was flawed from the outset'. While the prediction that Australia would win easily may not have been true, the final was still between the two teams that we knew, at the start of the tournament, it would be between.

    One result has not changed the fact that there is a gulf in class in Rugby League between the top 2, the next 2 and then everyone else. It was still a dull, predictable affair right up until the final. There were, from the outset, only two teams likely to win it, and the underdog of those two coming out on top does not change that fact.

  • Comment number 5.

    What a great outcome. I'm very pleased for RL as it is a fabulous sport and hope the only way is up from here. England were a let down but I think we'll go back to look at the Super League and look to make that serve England and the other home nations better. I don't think we should get rid of all overseas players though, it would be fab if someone like Lockyer came to play Super league for a season!

    Anybody saying RL is a waste of time is incorrect, it's fast and entertaining, and a great day out for the whole family. Anybody who has been to a Grand Final at Old Trafford and a union test match at Twickenham will know the difference. It's just sad that RL does not have as much media coverage as union, probably because anybody working in the press doesn't realise there's a lot of country north of Birmingham! I also dont understand why union fans nock RL so much, it's where RWC 2003 final try scorer Jason Robinson came from after all - and he was even better playing League.

    The Aussies can moan as much as they want about Sat's result. I thought the Kiwis really came through and the 2 test wins against England galvanised them into a good team. However, if the final was played 5 times, I still think Australia would win 4 of them!

    The layout of the tournament was good too. Some of those pool matches were class. It's just sad that PNG were in the same group as Aus, NZ and Eng. No one would have enjoyed watching the big 3 put cricket scores on the 'lesser' teams and this would have devalued the tournament imo.

  • Comment number 6.

    I don't mind Rugby League and I watched most of the live weekend matches, but the whole World Cup thing is very much flawed.

    England won one match, yet played in a semi final, Scotland won one match and were getting no where near a semi final, this makes the tournament a joke. You might as well just set aside three semi places for England, Australia and New Zealand and have everone else compete in a seperate tournament to see who fills the fourth place.

    Nevertheless, well done New Zealand.

  • Comment number 7.

    Post 1 - first sentence - nail on head!

  • Comment number 8.

    i agree with pedrokelly, the tournament system is flawed england did not play well enough to play in a semi final so the teams all need to be seeded into tiers like the rugby union which is a successful system imo.

  • Comment number 9.

    "It became obvious that the gap between Super League and the Aussie NRL..."

    These would be the competitions where superleague has won 5 in a row world club challenges (and lead 11-5 in total)?

  • Comment number 10.

    I don’t believe the problem is imports. The players coming over are on the whole of a pretty good quality. At least far better than their predecessors of the late 1990s. This is dragging up the standard of Super League, to what I believe as an Aussie is a very similar standard to the NRL.

    However I would like to see a few less imports, and the RFL are working to bring this about from next season. It would be nice to see a slight increase in the number of English Rugby League players who are full-time pros. At the same time though, you can’t kick out all the imports as the standard of the competition would drop dramatically.

    On the World Cup, I really enjoyed it. It was well worth the wait. I really enjoyed watching the unknown players from the Fijian and PNG domestic competitions. It looks like about half a dozen of these guys will be getting professional contracts in Australia, so that is yet another positive to come out of this tournament.

  • Comment number 11.

    Unfortunately not enough countries play league, so that it's always going to be difficult to establish a credible 'World Cup', and a competition like this sadly opens us up to criticism. A four nations tournament including he only realistic three plus possibly PNG (and later France) is the only way forward at the moment. It's ridiculous to have teams like Scotland and Ireland involved. At the same time separate tournaments for the developing nations could be organised, but they will need a positive attitude by the Three to providing real investment.

    In a smaller tournament the major teams can play each other more often and develop. New Zealand's progress was obvious, and who knows? Maybe England might have improved a bit with more competition at the highest level!

  • Comment number 12.

    Having said that, what a match that final was!

  • Comment number 13.

    Glad the tournament finally delivered , though I still feel it was still a little too late. Bar the final, the only other close encounters came between the less nations, which were always going to be inconsequential. Merely a side show. RL’s aim is to emulate the RU world cup, but they remain a long way behind. You can argue over factors such as entertainment etc, but that all depends on which side of the fence you're on. However, you can't argue about profits, viewing figures, attendances etc where the RU world cup is in a different league.
    Ave attendance for 2008 RLWC (in Australian, where League is arguably the national sport) = 15,000,
    However, for Rugby Union;
    2003 RUWC (Australia) = 38,000
    2007 RUWC (France) = 47,150, and that difference is made all the more stark when you factor in all the extra games in the RU World Cup. Still though, great final!

  • Comment number 14.

    auto98 - the fact you make does not tell the whole story. English clubs catch their Aussie rivals cold at a time of the season when the boys from down under have yet to hit their straps. The games are played over here - if it was played mid-season in Australia then I think it would be a different season.

    Those people suggesting the international game is a joke need to recognise that rugby league is now working hard to develop the emerging nations and ensure a healthier level of competition at the top level.

    The game's administrators have not said that the game is on the cusp of a World Cup in which numerous teams will all battle it out with a realistic chance of winning. But what they are doing is putting building blocks in place to move towards this long-term goal.

  • Comment number 15.

    I don't wish to put RL down, as I do think it is faster and more exciting to watch than Union, but ultimately there isn't presently the interest in watching the sport here, let alone in Ireland or Tonga or god knows were else.
    Did a significant number of people outside of the M62 corridor really take an interest in what was going on?
    I think RL needs to concentrate on first getting to grips with generating interest in the countries that play the sport before worrying about taking it out to the farthest reaches of the earth.

  • Comment number 16.

    The RFL are going down the right route trying to bring Super League around to having fewer, higher quality overseas players to both improve the spectacle of the game and to bring on younger players.

    However, what's needed are the club owners and coaches to really get behind the international game and choose the homegrown players above any overseas signings. This is the only way to bring England up to speed.

    A lot's been made about our young players 'not being ready' for Super League, but considering Inglis and Folau are both 19 (I think), it makes a bit of a mockery of it. As the age old saying goes: 'If you're good enough, you're old enough.'

  • Comment number 17.

    Strange how some people keep on repeating the same old mantra about RL being a small game.

    WE KNOW IT IS, this is why we are making a more concerted effort to further develop then international game. RL is doing what is good for RL, if you don't like it or think sport is only relevant if millions of people are involved, stick to soccer or something.

    RLWC is a farce because Australia will win it.....except they lose and other excuses are made? Non RL people cannot really understand the magnitude of the Kiwis victory. I for one feel extremely upbeat.

    Roll on Quad Nations 2009! =]

  • Comment number 18.

    At last a sensible, passionate and balanced article from a journo who obviously knows and loves League, whilst understanding its flaws. I've read some sickening bigoted articles about the RLWC(Independent and the Mail in particular) in the last few weeks. Well done. What mattered most was that a lot of the matches were great. Just compare that final with last years unbelievable dull Union one last year with Englands disallowed try the only drama in 80mins. Thanks BBC for being the voice of reason.

  • Comment number 19.

    And why is it ridiculous to have Ireland and Scotland in it?

    They both have domestic leagues - (or does that not count if it is RL)?

    Ireland have probably the bigger playing numbers but Scotland does have it's own competition too. Sure, they aren't about to trouble Celtic or Rangers but neither is any other sport and I don't see them ridiculed simply for existing.

  • Comment number 20.

    I must admit, it never really grabbed my attention at any phase. I've commented elsewhere that it seemed ridiculous to send at least four teams out to play two games and then come home (I'm not counting ranking games, they are a statistical irrelevance). I can see why they formatted the competition as they did but it was still a kick in the teeth if you were from Papua New Guinea.

    I mean, England were semi-finalists on the "strength" of one shaky victory and three defeats which ranged between comfortable and sizeable. We could of course, look at alternative formats until the cows come home and find very few that would have been suitable - repechages et al just add complexity - but you still get the feeling the tournament was "staged" from day one for maximum potential entertainment.

    I suppose that's exactly what we got. But it still didn't grab me - admittedly not a huge rugby (union or league) fan to start with - and people like me are surely those who were targeted by it. As an average, uncommitted sports fan, it's not going to make me tune in to more rugby league in the next few months and years.

  • Comment number 21.

    Tipland - I'm disappointed that you feel like that. Super League is an exciting product and well worth checking out - make sure you watch a few SL games next season.

    Johnoco - I agree with what you say, the World Cup was about the development of the game. It was aimed at putting building blocks in place so the international game will have a healthy future. It was not some kind of competition to say how good it is compared to union - and to suggest that is a nonsense.

  • Comment number 22.

    I remain the good old days of French referees doing internationals. Whatever happened to Monsieur Sablayrolles from the mid-eighties - utterly incompetent, struggled to count to six, but could not have been accused of favouring one side or the other.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think the format of the tournament should have been different. the big 3 should have been kept apart, which would have ensured more chance of an upset or 2 to generate interest. It would have made the semi-finals less predictable.

    I also believe the tournament was vastly biased in the Aussies favour. They had an Australian referree for every one of their games I believe. England didnt get an English ref, and New Zealand didnt get a Kiwi ref. No matter how much England improve, they will always be hampered by this, and the way the lying on rules are interpreted. The Aussies have too much influence over this, and the rules should be standardised at international and club level. Play the ball rules should be the same as Super League, which is a more entertaining, faster product than the NRL. The moment th ball carriers elbow has it the floor AND forward momentum stopped, the defending players should leave the tackle. Until this is done, then I'm afraid the international game will not prosper, as all teams need to be on a level playing field as far as rules are concerned!

  • Comment number 24.

    Sorry Johnoco, but I still maintain that Scotland and Ireland are far from being serious international teams. Their national leagues are the equivalent of lesser than NL2, and it opens us to ridicule when the players are interviewed and have a Northern English or Antipodean accent. You can see the results already on the message boards and this blog. Already some lay obervers, as well as the familiar names of some regular league critics, concentrate on the format of the competition, ignoring some of the great rugby league that was on show, and not just in that fabulous final.

  • Comment number 25.

    comebackdevils -I wasn't trying to claim Scotland and Ireland will be winning the competition next time, their leagues are clearly run by enthusiastic amateurs, but I was merely pointing out the fact that they DO exist. And that they consist, mostly, of Scottish and Irish players.

    OK as you point out, when it comes to games like the WC, they do tend to rely on the 'grandparent' rule but then so does every sport today.

    If mega rich soccer nations like France can use non-born French players, why is it so outrageous for a cash strapped game like RL to do the same thing?

    Besides, whilst I have had some reservations about the format myself, it has delivered the goods (in the main). In 2000 England beat Russia and Fiji then Ireland to get to the semi final...what's the difference this time around? Fact is, we haven't enough top class sides and until we do, we might have to skew the format a bit. That's not dishonest, it's about developing the game.

    Believe it or not, soccer was not the dominant game 200 years ago, it had to develop from somewhere and that's what it did. People conveniently forget or ignore that in the early days of soccer teams like Chelsea and Bradford City were admitted to the FL without having played a game. Bradford City won the FA Cup in 1911 with a side containing not one Englishman - do City fans today care about that? Do they chuff and neither will tomorrows RL fans if RL uses the profits from this WC sensibly.

  • Comment number 26.

    As the game struggles to contend with Football and Union??? FYI Rugby League in 2008 was the most watched sport in Australia it had 14 times more viewers then Rugby Union! Soccer or the A-League is really a 3rd rate competition that would struggle to compete with League 2 in the English Football Ass. League is the Number 1 sport in NSW/QLD and ACT this combined have almost half od Australia's population. League is struggling by any means

  • Comment number 27.

    Well Johnoco , I find your points very interesting. My contention is that it's actually counter-productive to have these pseudo teams in, for the reasons I've mentioned earlier. Would love to be wrong, though, just as I'd love to see Harlequins and Celtic Crusaders doing well next season. That's one thing we will certainly agree on: I'm sure like me you want to see more people enjoying our great sport. Don't you pity the ones who won't even have opened their minds enough to have watched that final?

  • Comment number 28.

    comebackdevils - agreed! =]

  • Comment number 29.

    Why do France have a place ahead of us? They came eighth, we (Ireland) came fifth.

  • Comment number 30.

    The WC was one big boring chain of games that largely went unrecognised. Even after the final NO-ONE CARED. At work on Monday there was barely any comment, there was more discussion about the Australia/New Zealand cricket test (which was boring as batsh*t) than the WC Final.

    The game is a joke and anyone trying to claim different is deluding themselves. To think a game where players change teams more often than they change their underwear is really a serious competition is ridiculous. I'm sure the RL WC will continue, and we will watch yet more one-sided contests that fail to excite in any way, only the WC raised the heartbeat at all and a real competition needs more than 1 good game to be a success.

  • Comment number 31.

    dubz2008; it's such a joke that you are here commenting on it.

    It's a strange phenomenon these days, people taking the time and effort to comment on things that are 'a joke' or 'irrelevant'. And RL seems to attract most of them.

  • Comment number 32.

    dubz2008; it's such a joke that you are here commenting on it.

    It's a strange phenomenon these days, people taking the time and effort to comment on things that are 'a joke' or 'irrelevant'. And RL seems to attract most of them.

  • Comment number 33.

    So good I wrote it twice!! =]

  • Comment number 34.

    I can't believe some of the comments here. The RLWC setup was designed to produce even games. I loved watching some of the lesser teams do battle. Close, exciting games they were. In the last Union WC for example, NZ won its pool matches 76-14, 108-13, 85-8 and 40-0. Wow, how exciting and I'm from NZ. Not worth watching. This comp had tighter matches and was a fantastic advert for the game. It was televised in well over 100 countries, many people watching for the first time. I guess you can only please some of the people some of the time.
    The biggest shock was some of the comments from you Paul. The game isn't in the shape you paint it down under. A few players have gone to Union. Considering how much more they can earn, it's an amazingly small trickle, mostly players past their use by date. Average NRL attendances were 15,800 in 2007 and 15,600 in 2008. Hardly a decline worth mentioning. The game is still in good heart in Oz.

  • Comment number 35.

    U1647526 and RayCee - you make some good points.

    Perhaps you could tell me a little bit more about the health of the game in Australia. I'm obviously looking from afar here in England but I saw a lot of talk about a crisis summit back in June with NRL executives talking about a fightback plan. There was talk about falling revenues, the decline of certain clubs in Sydney and the growth of the ARL (perhaps I should have mentioned that sport and not union and football). I also listened to a very sporty interview involving Phil Gould and David Gallop.

    Also, the loss of Sony Bill and Gasnier is not great for the game and made a few waves over - was it not a big issue in Australia?

  • Comment number 36.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the WC and thought the format ensured that the vast majority of games were competitive and exciting. It was always going to be unfair on whoever was put in Group A with the big three nations, however I think PNG did themselves proud and will have come away from the WC with a hell of a lot of useful experience that can only help them to develop and become more competitive in the future, many more New Guinians will be playing in the NRL and maybe Super league next season. In any international competition there is almost always a strong favourite, and very rarely more than 2-3 teams with a realistic chance of winning. The WC provided an incredibly exciting spectacle and I for one am gutted that SL doesn't start for another three months!

  • Comment number 37.

    Dubz2008, do me the courtesy of reading my posts 24 and 27. You are exactly the kind of person I'm referring to. Open your mind, mate. 'Nobody's interested' where you are, you say? Er, yes, that's exactly what leaguies on this blog are talking about. You've still got time to watch the highlights of the final on BBC iPlayer, by the way, or even tries of the competition. Give yourself a treat.

  • Comment number 38.

    Sorry Paul, I think you should stick to writing about life in the Football League. Rugby League in Australia is not struggling to contend with competition from Rugby Union. Don't believe me? Just ask the former Wallabies (that's the Australian rugby union team - for those journalists who are not sure) coach Eddie Jones:

    "Queensland used to be the union state in Australia, but the success of the Brisbane Broncos league team, allied to the growth of the Lions Aussie Rules side, who pull in full houses of 38,000 spectators, has changed its sporting profile. Union is struggling in Queensland now, to the extent that the youngsters coming into the game come almost exclusively from the private school system. All the other kids are being chased by league scouts – from the Broncos, from the Gold Coast, from the northern districts."

    Surely it is Australian RU that is struggling to compete with RL and AFL (Aussie Rules)? You are right that Soccer is growing in popularity down under and that the international game is stronger in RU, but the defections you talk about are mainly players who have already played their best footy (as they say in Australia) and who are looking for a pay day eg. Wendell Sailor and Mat Rogers. And as for off-field controversies rocking the game, if you think the antics of the Bulldogs players at the Clovelly Hotel (just down the coast from Bondi) are enough to bring the sport down then you're having a laugh!

    A much bigger threat to RL in New South Wales is the decision of the NSW government to increase the tax on poker (fruit) machines. This has significantly reduced the income of the sports and social clubs which bankroll clubs - to a certain extent - in the Sydney area. I do appreciate, however, that one needs to follow events in Australia reasonably closely to be aware of this, so we can't expect Paul Fletcher to know this kind of stuff. He is far too busy writing about the Football league...

  • Comment number 39.

    In the light of comments about the English team suffering due to the huge number of overseas imports, I was staggered to read on the BBc website today of the number of imports to Celtic Crusaders(I appreciate that it is a Welsh club!).

    How do the released players who have won promotion/the licence feel ?

    How do the Celtic supporters feel about them?

    Sounds just like Hull City when they got promoted to the Premiership..

    I appreciate that new entrants do not wish to be slaughtered but is this not too much?

    Would be interested in Dave Woods' comments on this (if he reads this blog!)

  • Comment number 40.

    Rugby union is boring and predictable, I could of told you every result so far in the autumn internationals before they took place. Also the next r.u. world cup final will between South Africa and New Zealand. FACT.
    p.s. Aus beat Wales and NZ beat England this weekend.

  • Comment number 41.

    Spot on article Paul, and can I say how great it is to get some balanced views on League from the BBC. Keep up the good work!

    In terms of the World Cup, I'd like to think it can be classed as a considered success. While England's incompetence will do nothing for the sport in this country, plenty of other countries' performances will have raised League's profile in their nations. I was lucky enough to be down in Australia for the duration of the tournament and it was a privilege to see the passion and desire shown by the teams and supporters of the likes of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Scotland and Ireland. The game between the latter and Samoa was one of my highlights of the trip. It was a wonderfully fierce and competitive game played out on a balmy spring night in Paramatta, with a noisy - if relatively small - crowd packed with Samoans and Irish supporters. Some of these were genuinely Irish, almost certainly watching their first live game of League. The atmosphere was superb, showing just how important and exciting international competition is.

    The same can be said about the final, which as exhilerating a contest as I've attended in years. It was a great match, a fantastic result and the atmosphere in Suncorp was superb. It was the final we all wanted - an England-Australia contest would have been depressingly one-sided.

    In terms of improving standards in Super League, it's a complex issue. It's true that we need to look at raising the intensity of the competition as a whole, and the number of high quality english players we produce. Development outside of the North of England is slowly producing results, with plenty of kids playing in the Midlands, Wales and South, but it will take decades to really bear fruit. But the structures and pathways are in place. Now promising youngsters from places like Bristol, Coventry and Cardiff have a route to getting the best coaching possible and making a career in League, which simply wasn't the case a few years ago.


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