BBC Sport | Rugby League | UK Edition

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Ireland Name Strong Squad for World Cup Qualifiers

Ireland Rugby League has named a strong looking train-on squad for their 2017 Rugby League World Cup European Pool B Qualifiers against Russia and Spain in October.
Included in Mark Aston’s initial 40-man party are 10 Super League players, including Wigan youngster Jack Higginson for the first time and a trio that have helped lift the League Leaders’ Shield with Warrington, brothers George and Toby King and Joe Philbin.
Veteran Stuart Littler has been included in what would be his rugby league swansong and there are 15 players from the domestic competition including Conor Mackey and Alan McMahon from champions Galway Tribesmen.
RL Ireland director Richard Egan commented: 
“Having been a part of the World Cup since 2000, RLI knows what a great spectacle the tournament is and what a fantastic experience it is for the players and squad members. We hope that qualification in 2017 will increase exposure in Ireland and further engagement by the local media to help us continue the development we have been working so hard to achieve.”
Onisi Burekama, Gareth Gill, Paddy James, Connor Phillips (Ballynahinch Rabbitohs), Adam Boyce, Sam Boyd, Chris Hall, Matt McKelvey (Belfast Met Scholars), Joe Keyes (Bradford Bulls), Haydn Peacock (Carcassonne), Rob Armstrong (Cork Bulls), James Kelly, Mikey Russell (Dublin City Exiles), Colton Roche (Featherstone Rovers), Conor Mackey, Alan McMahon (Galway Tribesmen), Luke Ambler (Halifax), Scott Grix, Gene Ormsby, Oliver Roberts (Huddersfield Giants), Matthew Cahoon, Jordan Hyltan (Ireland Students), Bob Beswick, Greg McNally (Leigh Centurions), Casey Dunne, Wayne Kerr (Longhorns RL), Will Hope, Michael Ward (Oldham Roughyeds), James Hasson (Parramatta Eels), Adam Docherty (Portadown Pumas), Danny Bridge (Redcliffe Dolphins), Gareth O’Brien (Salford Red Devils), Shannon McDonnell (St Helens), Stuart Littler (Swinton Lions), Liam Finn (Wakefield Trinity Wildcats), George King, Toby King, Joe Philbin (Warrington Wolves), Dave Allen (Whitehaven), Jack Higginson (Wigan Warriors)

Wednesday, 21 September 2016


The weekend of the 24-25 September is set to be the most prolific in the history of the Rugby League European Federation.
Five internationals across three age groups and two continents under the RLEF’s jurisdiction are scheduled, with matches taking place in Spain, Czech Republic, Serbia, Canada and Scotland.
“This year has continued the trend that has seen RLEF members strengthening their cooperation with one another and seeking opportunities to engage in more competition,” 
said RLEF general manager Danny Kazandjian. 
“There have been a number of historic firsts, especially at youth level, which is an encouraging sign that the sport is establishing itself in a number of different nations.
“More home-grown young players are demanding more rugby league and in increasing numbers our members, by working with neighbours and trusted partners, are able to satisfy that demand.”
In recent weeks, Ireland has played their first match at U16 level and Jamaica hosted Canada at U17 in a ground-breaking initiative for both nations.
Kazandjian added: 
“In 2015 the RLEF set a record of 41 world rankings matches mainly due to European Championships at three levels plus two World Cup qualifying competitions, and while it’s doubtful we’ll break that this year there will be a record number of bi and tri-laterally organised games.
“Italy are looking to play a couple of youth fixtures in Monza as part of the ‘festival of RL’ that will surround their 2017 WC European qualifier in October, we have just seen the completion of the Nordic Cup and Western Tri-Nations, Italy and Lebanon resurrected the Mediterranean Cup and Serbia U21s have toured the Czech Republic.
“Our continuing mission is to provide a stable framework that encourages such cooperation, while continually training and mentoring local technical leaders so that the quality of rugby league increases at all levels.”
The matches being played across the weekend of 24-25 September are:
Colonial Cup game 1 – Canada v USA
Spain v Serbia
Czech Republic v Norway
Scotland U19s v England Young Lionhearts
Serbia U21s v Lebanon U21s

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Sydney to Host 2017 Women's Rugby League World Cup

The Rugby League World Cup 2017 (RLWC2017) Organising Committee today announced that for the first time in the sport’s history the Women’s Rugby League World Cup will be held concurrently with the men’s tournament.

With NSW Government funding, Women’s Rugby League World Cup 2017 pool matches and semi-finals will be played at Southern Cross Group Stadium, the home of NRL Premiership team the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, from 16 November next year, with both the women’s and men’s finals played as a double-header at Brisbane Stadium on 2 December 2017.
RLWC2017 Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Hill, said this historic announcement for international rugby league provides the women’s game with the perfect platform to demonstrate their world-class prowess.
“It has always been the Board’s vision to have the Women’s Rugby League World Cup played concurrently with the men’s tournament and through the strong support of the NSW Government, we have been able to create what is a milestone moment for the sport,” Andrew Hill said.
“It’s only fitting these gifted athletes get the opportunity to showcase their skills on a global stage and we see next year’s Women’s Rugby League World Cup as a game charger for the sport.

“Female participation in all forms of rugby league is the fastest growing category in the game and women’s international rugby league has made great strides forward in recent years. 
“To have both the women’s and men’s finals played on the same day, at the same venue will conclude what will be the greatest ever Rugby League World Cup,” Hill concluded.

NSW Minister for Sport Stuart Ayres said women’s international rugby league continues to go from strength to strength and the Women’s World Cup will be a massive drawcard for fans.

“It’s a huge coup for NSW to make the Women’s World Cup happen and Sydney is the perfect location to welcome visitors to enjoy these exciting matches,” Mr Ayres said.

“Our female players are bringing global recognition to the game and I encourage all fans to attend the Women’s World Cup next year where they will witness the tremendous talent we have in our game.”

Previously the Women’s Rugby League World Cup was part of the user-pays Festival of World Cups that featured tournaments for Women, Defence, Police, Wheelchair and Universities.
In 2017, the standalone Women’s Rugby League World Cup will involve six teams from three different continents: Europe (England), North America (Canada) and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea).
The final team will come from either Fiji, Tonga, Samoa or the Cook Islands following the Pacific Qualifying Series to be played at St Mary’s in Western Sydney during October 2016.
The draw for the Women’s Rugby League World Cup 2017 will be announced following the Pacific qualifying series.

Monday, 19 September 2016

First Game of RL in Bulgaria

The first ever official game of Rugby League took place in Bulgaria on Saturday September 10th 2016, when local team Locomotive Sofia welcomed their neighbours from Serbia, Radnički (Niš).
Whilst the result was officially recorded as 44-16 - the full story of the day was that the newcomers put up a spirited performance and scored three tries against their more experienced visitors.
The match came about after a chance meeting on holiday but was promoted once again by the excellent development work undertaken in the region by the Serbian Rugby League Federation.
It is hoped that with continued support, Bulgaria may form its own federation and join the growing family of Rugby League playing nations in Europe.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Reborn in Canada and the USA

I've written in the past about useless RFL officials who couldn't sell a blanket to an eskimo but were also immune from the sack.

I've also written about my belief (my hope) that RL's best chance of real expansion would be to become popular in the USA and become fashionable. It could then exported to other countries like they do with much of their lifestyle, culture etc…

The birth of Toronto Wolfpack might allow this to happen. Without kicking a competitive ball, they already have a TV contract to show home games and an X Factor style TV programme to recruit players. They have a wealthy backer, sponsorship and claim to be expecting 
10 000 crowds to each home game. They have already progressed further commercially than 80% of our UK based teams, some with 120 years worth of history. Their assembled management team and squad (so far) would be the envy of most UK based teams too. 

Time will tell but Toronto Head Honcho, Eric Perez certainly talks a good fight and confidently predicts that other Canadian sides e.g. Montreal will be formed and seek to emulate their success. He points out that the NHL carried on for years with six teams and only became successful when it started to expand.

It's early days and I don't want to get carried away. Maybe just maybe, this is the guy with enough entrepreneurial skill to sell rugby league to the world

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.” 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Where are you now Bert Baskerville?

Prior to the arrival of  The All Golds in 1907, Northern Union officials were concerned that the new code would not be able to survive financially without international competition and the gate receipts produced. Of course, The All Golds tour was a big success and it facilitated the introduction of the new code in New Zealand and Australia who provided the required international competition. As a result, the new code went from strength to strength and was eventually renamed Rugby League.

Despite peaks and troughs, Rugby League has generally prospered and, last year it celebrated its 120th anniversary. Times have changed and progress has been made. The game is now played in the summer by full time professionals and is beginning to spread around the UK and further afield. In 2016, grass root games between Oxford, Coventry, North Wales, South Wales, Hemel Hempsted and London took place. In the next few months Serbia, Spain, Russia, Italy, Malta, Thailand, Scotland and Ireland will all compete internationally. This would've been unthinkable even twenty years ago.

Progress is definitely being made but times are tough for the professional game in the UK. Crowds, TV audiences, media attention and income are declining and without SKY, the game would be bankrupt. Rugby League seems unable to gain the increased corporate sponsorship it needs and struggles to achieve the wider recognition it craves.

Clubs need income to pay players and are forced to play an excessive number of fixtures to generate enough money. This affects both player welfare and the quality of the product show. Familiarity breeds contempt for spectators who are tired of watching the same teams over and over again. Wigan v St Helens is great but their are limits.

The NFL is just starting and they only play twenty games in a season  lasting only four month but generate massive revenues. Basic economics involving supply and demand indicate that fewer games would mean more interest. We should play fewer games, concentrate on quality and introduce some variety.

An Ashes (or Lions) Tour would be ideal but we threw that baby out with the bathwater when moving the season to summer. It has never been replaced and we have never had anybody in charge with enough business acumen or entrepreneurial skill to produce an alternative.

The original Northern Union officials were probably right to be concerned that their new code would
struggle financially without international competition.

Where are you now Bert Baskerville?  

Friday, 9 September 2016

All Blacks, All Blues, All Golds - The Birth of Australian Rugby League

On the night of August 8, 1907, the most celebrated sportsman in Australia stepped off a tram in Sydney’s George Street. He pulled up his collar against the cool breeze and, satisfied he wasn’t being followed by the press, walked briskly towards the four-storey brick hotel in front of him. As he approached, the door was opened from within and with a final furtive glance behind him he hurried inside. George Bateman, the licensee of the hotel shook the man’s hand and said, “Good evening, Mr Trumper.”

CLICK HERE to read more about The Birth of Australian Rugby League

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Italy 26 Ireland 60

03/09/16     Palazzolo Sull’Oglio, Brescia
Captain Casey Dunne scored a hat-trick as the Irish Wolfhounds kicked off the International RL season with an 11-try victory in Brescia.
The team of Irish-based players finished strongly in an entertaining match which, despite the final scoreline, was competitive for more than an hour and provided a great work out for the Wolfhounds. It was only when they scored three times in the final 10 minutes that Ireland ran away with it.
It means the Wolfhounds continue their unbeaten streak from last season and will head into home international matches against Malta (October 8th) and Jamaica (October 15th) in Bray next month full of confidence.
Several players will be keen to continue their fine form from this match to press for inclusion in the full squad, which includes overseas-based players, for the vital World Cup qualifiers against Spain and Russia, also next month.
With ideal, balmy conditions and a large and vocal crowd, the Italians set out their stall from the start to play an open game, scoring first after good build-up play around the Irish fringes.
This stung the Wolfhounds into action and hooker Connor Phillips darted over to level the scores but the Irish were found themselves behind again soon after as the Italians crossed for their second try but missed the conversion.
Irish captain Dunne then drew the sides level with his first try before Jordan Hylton put Ireland ahead. Phillips continued to press hard around the ruck and was rewarded with a second score which was converted to see Ireland lead by 10 points. The lead was then increased when the impressive Gareth Gill crashed over. As half-time approached the Irish were caught out and the Italians ended the half with a flourish. As the hooter sounded it was Italy 16-26 Ireland.

Coach Carl de Chenu composed the team at half time and asked the Wolfhounds to keep patient with the game plan and to ensure they used the experience across the park. This advice was headed and in the second half the Wolfhounds were able to show their quality.
After an initial score by Casey Dunne, the Italians swung back into possession and got momentum building via two tries. However, it was Ireland who then took dominance and they had scores from Sam Boyd, Casey Dunne, Rob Armstrong, Conor Mackey and finally James Kelly. Dunne’s hat trick secured him the man of the match award but there were great displays across the park by Phillips, Gill and Russell.
Kelly and McKelvey were both celebrating their birthday’s on the day and had great reason to celebrate with the win. The try of the day was for Rob Armstrong who went almost the length of the field much to the delight of the crowd who were hugely sporting throughout.
Wolfhounds coach Carl de Chenu praised the manner in which his team kept their shape and composure throughout the match. He added: 
“These games offer a great chance for players to experience rugby league at international level and are a great growth opportunity for the sport across other developing nations. There is no doubt that the players in Ireland have the potential and it’s great to see players coming through from U19s and Students and into the senior team.”

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Homegrown Irish Get Chance to Impress v Italy

Ireland kick off their international rugby league season this weekend when they take on Italy in Brescia.

The match will provide leading home-based players with an opportunity to show they are worth a place in the squad for the vital World Cup qualifiers next month.

All but one of the 18-man squad selected by coach Carl du Chenu took part in last month’s State of Origin series, in which the Northern Ireland Elks defeated the Republic of Ireland Eagles for the first time.

The selection signals a move by coaches towards picking more home-based players for the Ireland team in order to grow rugby league throughout the island.

The players will be fighting for inclusion in next month’s home international friendlies against Malta and Jamaica in Bray, and World Cup qualifiers away to Spain and at home to Russia, when more established internationals who play abroad will also be involved.

Coach Carl du Chenu said: After a tough domestic season for the lads, we've selected a strong squad for our first international of 2016.
"There’s a good mix of youth and experience with several players stepping up from this year’s student team as well as hardened internationals like Casey Dunne and Wayne Kerr returning to the fold.

“Training has gone really well and we're looking forward to playing our first ever international against Italy.
"This year is huge for international rugby league with the World Cup qualifiers just around the corner and the World Cup itself just over a year away.

"It's really important that we hit the ground running with a strong performance against the Italians.

"A lot of these players will be looking to impress [head coach] Mark Aston and hopefully get selected for the more testing internationals.”

Ireland squad to play Italy in Brescia (Saturday, kick-off 6pm local time): Rob Armstrong, Adam Boyce, Sam Boyd, Onisi Burekama, Matthew Cahoon, Adam Docherty, Casey Dunne, Cathal Evans, Gareth Gill,Chris Hall, Paddy James, James Kelly, Conor Mackey, Matt McKelvey, Alan McMahon, Connor Phillips,Wayne Kerr, Mikey Russell.