The rumoured venues for this year’s Four Nations are encouragingly varied as rugby league continues to break new ground.
The headline venue is of course Anfield, currently undergoing a significant re-development, and the final could be the first step in a significant partnership between the home of Liverpool FC and rugby league.
A return to the Olympic Stadium, where New Zealand beat England last autumn, is also a positive to retain the London-presence, and though choosing the tired ground at Workington may be a surprise, it has been a regular host of Scotland games in recent years and its use is just reward for the loyal supporters that have turned out there to cheer on Steve McCormack’s men on what has been a remarkable journey in the past decade.
New ground is set to be broken with a double header at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, now home to the relocated Wasps rugby union team. For too long, rugby league seems to have bypassed the midlands as a possible growth region, and it will be interesting to see what reception is gained there, particularly given the newly established rugby union presence in the area.
There has been criticism of the delay in announcing the dates and venues, but the RFL find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Accused of a lack of ambition if they hold it in rugby league-owned grounds, such as Warrington and St Helens, it’s difficult for them to secure dates at football grounds as the new season fixtures aren’t drafted until June, giving barely four months notice for fans.
It seems this year they’re trying to force through the Anfield deal as the headline venue, and leave it at that when it comes to football.
A sign of this is the decision to play the usual Hull-based game at the KC Lightstream Stadium, home of Hull KR, as opposed to Hull FC’s KC Stadium. The city’s football team do not yet know whether they’ll be playing in the Premier League next season or not, and the new stand at Hull KR is certainly well worth a visit.
What last year’s series victory against New Zealand showed was that there is a clear appetite and justification for international rugby league, that is undoubted. The trouble is with just two fully professional domestic competitions in the world, it’s very hard to get them in other than in the end of season period.
It presents a challenge for the organisers to ensure that people who are engaged by the internationals have the pathway to enjoy rugby league on a more regular basis.
The NFL has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity on these shores, but who can point to Jacksonville or Seattle on a map?
What’s key about these Four Nations is getting new people to the venues.
And if the Anfield game means a few thousand Scousers become exposed to rugby league, that can only be good for St Helens.