League must prove a point with World Cup

The rugby league media often find themselves on the defensive, mainly in response to criticism of the greatest game from their rugby union counterparts. But is rugby league as a sport to blame for giving the “sledgers” ammunition for which to carry out their anti-league offensives?

The World Cup is just around the corner, but instead of shouting it from the rooftops, it seems to have an underwhelming presence in the sporting calendar. One issue is the lack of terrestrial coverage of the competition. SKY Sports have been great supporters of our game, despite cynics who claim that the broadcaster monopolise several of the RFL policies, including expansion, but this competition needs a BBC or an ITV to get the competition out there to a wider audience.

Obviously money issues mean that the rights holders can’t afford to be choosy when looking for a broadcaster, and more often than not, SKY are going to have the biggest offer. But do the Aussies really care about spreading the gospel? Do they understand the struggle that even British rugby league has in attracting audiences? It’s all fine for them over there, where rugby league enjoys publicity at a level not too far behind football in this country. But the sport needs to use the opportunity of a World Cup to help raise its profile, as it languishes far behind the rival code in terms of world exposure.

Rugby League’s professional image isn’t helped by a number of things, however. The so called “Super Pool” where three of four teams go through to the semi finals is a laughable concept. Although the justification of it – to ensure there are plenty of competitive matches – is fine, the actual way it has been implemented is a joke. How is it fair that Papua New Guinea have effectively had their chances of a World Cup written off from the start?

Likewise, how is it fair that one of the winners of the other two pools – made up of three teams – won’t be in the semi finals, but a team who may just win one game in the “Super Pool” can be. Yes, Australia, New Zealand and England are superior to the other nations on paper, but one sided matches in the Rugby Union and Football World Cup haven’t deterred fans from tuning in there – in fact many neutrals watch games to support the underdogs in the David and Goliath encounters.

The most remembered match of the last competition was Wales’ sensational performance against Australia. That won’t happen this year, not because Wales aren’t in it, but because there will only be one opportunity for this to happen – the semi final, and even then it will be the weakest of the “big three” against probably Samoa, but maybe France, Scotland, Fiji, Ireland or Tonga.

The format even has our own diehard fans questioning the point of the World Cup – so imagine explaining it to fans of other sports. It goes alongside explaining the presence of a French team in the Super League/National League, the abolition of promotion/relegation, and the inclusion of a fast tracked Welsh team that plays to its own rule in Super League.

One must also question the point in England playing a friendly against Wales this Friday, after the World Cup squad has been announced. For a start, what is the point in Richard Myler putting in a man of the match performance, as it will have no effect on whether he goes to Australia or not. Surely it would have made sense to name the squad after the game, so that anyone who shows they are in form, can be included.

And likewise, what is the point in Stuart Fielden and co getting a run out, when the game could be used as a World Cup warm up for players actually booked on the plane Down Under? Surely the key players such as Burrow, Roby, Higham and Pryce need to be building platforms and set pieces with players they will be facing up to the Aussies alongside in a few weeks, not players who will be back in the M62 corridor watching the competition on their satellite televisions.

We might be sick of the union media sniping at our game, but we need to stop providing them the ammunition to do so.

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