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Rugby league is the freak of Australian sport

Cup match: Matt Seamark (centre) of Wales is sandwiched between Daniel Howard and Matthew Shipway of the US during a rugby league World Cup match last year.

Cup match: Matt Seamark (centre) of Wales is sandwiched between Daniel Howard and Matthew Shipway of the US during a rugby league World Cup match last year. Photo: Getty Images

Given the position rugby league holds in Australia, it never ceases to amaze how little coverage anything outside the NRL receives.

This week we had the qualifying system for the World Cup announced. You would think, given the number of NRL players likely involved, it might get a line or two in the papers – particularly since the 2017 tournament is in Australia.

No such luck.

The reasons for this are many and varied but I repeat my constant refrain: Australians are good underdogs but sheepish as leaders. We should be doing for rugby league worldwide what the Americans do for basketball and baseball, but somehow that missionary zeal is absent from most of us.

Maybe many rugby league people in Australia are involved in the sport because it’s the top show in town. If belly flopping was the top sport, they’d play and follow that. So they are ashamed what a small sport rugby league is worldwide and have nothing in common with second-rowers in Serbia or referees in American Samoa.

But rugby league in Australia is the real freak, the weird anomaly. I believe the real spirit of the game resides where it is marginalised, where people don’t get paid, where it battles every day for survival. That’s what the game is to me – not giant professional athletes earning more than the prime minister but geeks, battlers, trainspotters and volunteers trying to lift a sport above obscurity against the odds.

Anyway, onto the news itself. As predicted here, Italy and the US have been kind of kicked out of the World Cup despite their strong showings in Britain, Ireland and France last year.

Scotland, Samoa, Fiji, France and England are the automatic qualifiers alongside hosts Australia and New Zealand. That’s right, all the 2013 quarter-finalists except the US.

I see good and bad in this decision. The good is that the US has an incentive to sort out its warring factions and become a full member of the Rugby League International Federation before the tournament. Italy has the same problem and the same incentive.

The bad side of the decision is that full members are miffed at those two countries stacking their sides with foreign-based professionals and beating them – and they’ve ganged up on the Tomahawks and Azzurri whose non-membership prevents them defending themselves in the boardroom.

What’s more, the qualifiers will be mid-season, meaning NRL and Super League players will be unavailable. If the US and Italy are to get through to the World Cup in 2017, they’ll have to do so with domestic players or at least those from lower-tier competitions in Australia and Britain.

And that’s not a bad thing. I feel the US, in particular, have been treated poorly but, in the end, we want the best rugby league countries in the World Cup, not those who exported more people to Australia and England in the 1950s.

The remaining seven spots in the 2017 tournament will be filled by qualifiers in Europe (three), Asia-Pacific (two), the Americas (one) and Africa-Middle East (one).

This year’s European Championships will decide which of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France will take part in the 2016 Four Nations.

Why are we having a 2016 Four Nations when Great Britain want to tour Australia next year? Given the choice, I’d rather players have off 2016 and we get the Lions next year.

Turnover at Titans

I HAD the pleasure of meeting Daryl Kelly, the chairman of the Gold Coast Titans, at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night.

In retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t have coffee or you might not be reading this column.

It was a coffee with Kelly that preceded the resignation of coach John Cartwright on Tuesday. Club founder Michael Searle went late last week, although we weren’t told until Tuesday.

I have a lot to do with coaches these days through my work with Triple M, even though I almost never call them anymore as a news gatherer between games.

Cartwright was always helpful and honest, his comment about coaches being “ships in the night” showed rare perspective in a stressful and self-absorbed industry. He made it clear he cared about the club beyond his own career and it’s great he’s staying around.

The end of Neil Henry’s tenure in North Queensland was premature; it occurred during a finals series, after all. He’s a good choice as replacement.

As for Searle, he founded the joint. Searle was one of the up-and-coming movers and shakers in the game who, unfortunately, over-reached with the ill-fated centre of excellence.

I’m aware that people who were out of pocket from that held it against the club and stayed away. Maybe now they’ll come back.

But Searle’s legacy is a club that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. That’s something to be proud of.

Tallis taken to task

COMMENTS time and I’m still playing catch-up.

From last week’s column, You Got The Juan said Gorden Tallis was not a journalist and should be called a pundit. I agree – but have a confession to make. I don’t have a degree in journalism. I got a job straight out of high school at AAP.

Short Memory said Tallis was basing his comments on what Robbie Farah said to him 15 months ago. But an unnamed player was quoted in Rugby League Week just a fortnight ago criticising Potter. I don’t think Tallis’ claims were based solely on the conversation with Farah. He just cited it as evidence.

Jimmy Crocodile said fans wanted coaches sacked when they did not get results. And I guess that’s why they are sacked, Jimmy! I’d just like to see more of them serve out their contracts, and I’d like to see more support for them when they are sacked. Then we’d get a better class of applicant.

I’m going back to the "image" column looking for something I can respond to but most of the feedback seems to be league v AFL v rugby union tiffs. OK … Tired Camel said because I have done stupid things, I can’t comment on players doing silly things. But what is the use of learning from mistakes if you can never pass on what you learn? I waited 28 years until I could cope with being called a hypocrite before writing that column. I also outed myself as one right at the top – so if you thought that discounted me from commenting, you could stop reading right away.

Lgrsydney questioned Todd Carney winning the 2010 Dally M medal. But the Dally M is for the best player – not the fairest. The Rothmans Medal was best and fairest. Mind you, suspensions do discount a candidate from the Dally M medal. As for Paul Gallen, he’s the captain of NSW and says interesting things. No one has the right to censor him.

Soot said people in all areas of society behave poorly. But rugby league at the top is a media-financed and driven entity that the game as a whole uses as a recruitment tool. James Packer is not a front man for recruiting future media moguls. If the people at the top, whose wages are paid by media rights, are acting in a way that deters recruitment, then the amateur game is hurt as badly as the professional game.

Enough for this week, then.

Here’s the forum.

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65 comments so far

  • RLWC should move to 16-teams in 2017.16 is a much better format than 14 teams, and they could final 16-teams to be competitive, especially if the eligibility rules get loosened more.

    Date and time
    August 06, 2014, 4:07PM
    • Unfortunately, many (not saying all) RL people in Australia seem to think RL begins and ends at our borders. Yet when I was younger, there was nothing better than rousing Ashes RL Test matches between Great Britain and Australia. Would love to see that again. Also looking forward to the 2017 RLWC; the 2013 RLWC was generally great.

      Date and time
      August 06, 2014, 4:53PM
      • Those many are right. RL is a great game within its two state borders, a non entity beyond that. Appreciate what you have.

        Date and time
        August 07, 2014, 10:52AM
    • It wouldn't matter what countries you put in the "World Cup" the countries will be full of Aussies and Kiwis anyway, so just make the countries up

      FC of Sydney
      Date and time
      August 06, 2014, 6:27PM
      • Australia does very little to promote League globally.For some reason they are very inward looking you only have to listen to the bias in their media towards the only overseas NRL Warrior side to wonder why?Perhaps you Aussies just dont care about growing the game- I really dont know.There is some movement with PG and now Petro is pushing Fiji which is great but such a lot more could be done especially come World Cup time.
        League is such a TV friendly sport(altho time taking for video refs is spoiling it lately)that its growth could be huge if the leaders were dedicated to it.
        You are correct that the backbone of any sport is in the thousands of unpaid players and volunteers away from the limelight.Any sport that ignores the imput of their grassroots will slowly stagnate at best or decline at worst.

        Date and time
        August 06, 2014, 6:29PM
        • "Given the position rugby league holds in Australia, it never ceases to amaze how little coverage anything outside the NRL receives."

          What does that mean? and given that rugby league is mainly played in two states what is the problem?

          Date and time
          August 06, 2014, 6:49PM
          • I agree OPERAKAT - a truly staggering and arrogant comment. Have a look at the publicity the Waratahs have had this last 2 weeks; plus the All Blacks V Wallabies start next week. Uo here is Brisbane the Reds have bigger home crowds on average than the Broncos.

            Next Mini Ice Age
            Date and time
            August 07, 2014, 8:28AM
          • Sigh.

            I think you missed the point entirely.

            The writer is asking why non-NRL related rugby league, ie. World Cup, NSW Cup, other non-NRL related competitions do not receive much coverage.

            Date and time
            August 07, 2014, 11:23AM
          • @Next Mini Ice Age:
            You must be living in a nice bubble there! Also could you be more wrong?
            Brisbane Broncos NRL 9 314,438 34,938
            Reds Super Rugby 8 228,003 28,500

            Not only do the Broncos have a higher average crowd, their total crowd will be so much bigger because they play far more matches in a season too!

            Date and time
            August 07, 2014, 11:33AM
          • Hi Budz - the Broncos average crowd numbers are heavily skewed through 3 - 4 games. When the Broncos play say GC Titans/ Cowboys/ Warriors (big kiwi population up here) they get around 40,000. Go and have a look at the average crowds for other games.

            Next Mini
            Date and time
            August 07, 2014, 12:02PM

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