Leagues Legacy Lost?

It was early, very early. Bleary eyed I tried to come to terms with video referee Bernard Sutton’s decision in the wake of a now all to familiar Australian victory over England. With a sense of déjà vu setting in, I tiptoed into the kitchen to take on another caffeine hit. I stood looking out of the kitchen window at a foggy, mist covered start to Sunday as I waited to hear the highly anticipated (and much needed) click of the kettle. Maybe it was the unclear view out of the window that got me thinking about the ‘L’ word, because I’m not sure whether I see it yet or not.

After a successful World Cup last year, there seemed to be a real buzz about league, and in particular, the international competition. In the build up to tournament, almost every interview I read featured somebody using the word legacy, and how the competition was going to be a springboard for the success of the international game.

The World Cup was superb and featured some intense, exciting and hard fought contests. According to RFL chief executive Nigel Wood, just under half of the crowd for the two semi-finals were new to the sport, and, in his words: “International sport is a real opportunity to showcase the very best of any sport, and it’s one that we’re not going to miss.”

The Four Nations began down under a couple of weeks ago. The best of the best of the games international teams are competing for supremacy, which is a superb opportunity for the legacy of league to come to the fore, isn’t it?

It seems strange, then, that England’s opening game of the Four Nations against Samoa was their first since their World Cup semi-final defeat to New Zealand, almost a year earlier. It seems as though we may have missed the boat. It makes me wonder how many of the ‘new’ fans to the game have been getting up early to watch the Four Nations.

The ones that have been setting the alarm have been treated to a real feast of top quality rugby. Samoa have more than held their own, and most of the results have been in the balance until the final minutes. A youthful Australian side haven’t quite been able to dominate in the way they have been doing over the past decade or more. The unpredictability and intensity of the games have, however, shown us that international rugby league is very much a ‘showcase of the very best of our sport’.

A huge opportunity has been missed here. England could have played two or three warm up matches on home soil  ahead of the Four Nations before heading off down under. Not only would this have given Steve McNamara the chance to see his players in action live ahead of the tournament, but it would have developed an awareness of the tournament for those new supporters the RFL is so keen to attract.

Why not revisit a World Cup venue too? Why not play Wales in Neath or in Wrexham? Or Ireland in Limerick? Or head back to Bristol, or play a game somewhere new in Scotland or the south-west? It could have promoted the European Championships that Scotland, Ireland, Wales and France were contesting over the past three weeks, into the bargain.

An expanded World Club Challenge series next year will undoubtedly benefit the game and is highly anticipated, but it seems as though the legacy of the World Cup has been placed on the backburner and almost disappeared out of sight completely.

In May, Nigel Wood was appointed the Rugby League International Federation chairman and now must deliver leagues legacy, before it disappears altogether.

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