BBC Sport | Rugby League | UK Edition

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again"


The great rugby split happened in 1895 when, put simply, the southern based bosses wouldn't play fair with the northern based working class players. The Northern Union was formed which became Rugby League and it prospered although concern was expressed about whether the new code was financially viable without international competition.

The All Golds arrived in 1907 and their tour was a big success. It facilitated the introduction of the new code in New Zealand and Australia who provided the required international competition.

In the UK, Rugby League is now played in the summer and, without doubt, this has many advantages. However, the move destroyed the traditional and very successful international calendar involving regular Kangaroo/Lions/ Kiwi tours and as a sport we haven't really found an acceptable replacement. Tri/Four Nation tournaments are poor replacements which don't attract enough sponsorship, crowds or media attention. 

Ruby League internationals used to capture the imagination of the general public and were very profitable producing money that could be distributed to the clubs and grassroots of the game. Modern day internationals involving tired players arranged as an afterthought with poor marketing cannot compare.

Unfortunately, in comparison to other sports in similar situations, the RFL does not generate enough revenue centrally. Thus clubs are forced to play an excessive number of fixtures and this obviously affects the quality of the product.  

Maybe the Northern Union officials were right to express concern about the viability of the code without (successful) international competition.


In future, international Rugby League matches must be organised well in advance and marketed properly. International matches must be given priority. Other sports e.g. cricket and RU realise this

We've actually come to the point where top players choose to play in club matches carrying injuries but miss internationals to have required operations. 

I'm sure the RFL are aware of this and they have tried to improve matters including an attempt to organise a Lions tour to the southern hemisphere but were massively frustrated by the uncooperative Australians obsessed with the NRL and SoO. Unfortunately for supporters in the UK, rugby league in Australia is profitable and they just don't need international rugby league as much as we do. I'm sure they would think differently if we started to beat them on a regular basis.

My solution would be to organise a good old six week Lions tour to the southern hemisphere in June/July 2017, play two matches per week and select players on form like we used to. Hopefully we could play Test Matches against Australia and NZ but if not, I'm sure somebody would play us.

The clubs (in the UK or Australia) would not want to lose their players during the season but arrangements could be made if leadership was shown. 

I'm sure it won't happen. 

The current RFL officials do not have enough business acumen or entrepreneurial skill to promote international rugby league successfully or produce an equivalent alternative which will increase sponsorship, income and media attention to the levels required. 

They are paid big salaries plus benefits in comparison to executives in comparable positions in private enterprise but they are not forced to be accountable in the same way. In business, results are rewarded, failure isn't accepted and managers have to take responsibility. The RFL officials, who manage the sport, are not held accountable for their performance. Nobody takes responsibility for obvious decreases in income, sponsorship, crowds or media profile. Excuses can be made but nobody ever took responsibility for disasters like the Stobart non-sponsorship or the Crusaders demise, Further back nobody ever took responsibility for the Gateshead or PSG embarrassment.

More than 120 years on since the great split but has anything actually changed?    

The ending of Animal Farm (by George Orwell) comes to mind: 

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” 

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