COLUMN: England have put Rugby League on the map in this country

England may have lost the Rugby League World Cup final to Australia, but they have created something very special and have made their nation immensely proud.

What a tournament it has been for the Lions. They just fell short to the Kangaroos 18-4 in the opening game of the tournament, with the scoreline giving an unfair reflection on the game. The Lions then went on to ease past Lebanon and France 29-10 and 36-6 respectively in Group A.

Due to impressive performances in the group stage, they met the highly-regarded Papua New Guinea in the quarter-finals and thrashed them 36-6.

They beat Tonga, who boast a squad packed with NRL stars, 20-18 in the semi-final to reach their first World Cup final in 22 years.

While there has been a lot negativity surrounding the amount of national media coverage over England reaching the final, I actually think it’s been good. Of course, you can always get more, but I think it’s been great.

The likes of The Mirror, Daily Star, The Sun, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Express and BBC have all done a great job in covering the World Cup, with pieces in the papers most days. Good Morning Britain even interviewed Alex Walmsley!

A lot of credit must go to the RFL communications team as well, who manage the media output of England Rugby League. It’s been absolutely brilliant and the best out of any team in the tournament by a mile. From the videos, to the news updates, to the Our League app – everything has been professional but fun as well.

Back to the on-field action now, due to the Lions’ displays at the World Cup, a lot more people in England now know about Rugby League. It’s not just a Northern sport anymore, the majority know of it.

Jon Wilkin summed it up perfectly on BBC 5 Live Sport, he said: “Flat caps and whippets and Bovril and all these stereotypical perceptions of the game need to get thrown out the window.

“It’s not the Victorian factory owners and the workers up the North and it’s now all the wealthy businessmen in the Georgian townhouses in the South.

“Rugby League has an opportunity to become a genuine national footprint sport.”

Call me a happy clapper, but I honestly believe that the sport will grow on the back of this World Cup tournament, in terms of gaining better crowds across the North AND South, as well as participation levels increasing, in the men’s, women’s and junior game.

This England team will be one that is a hot topic in conversation in a lot of pubs for years to come. We will be talking of the likes of Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Burgess, James Graham, Ryan Hall and Gareth Widdop to future generations.

We need to appreciate the players we have got. They are a talented bunch and if the game was on home soil then we might have just edged that final.

We need to remember that Australia thrashed New Zealand, who were then ranked the number one side in the world, 34-2 at Old Trafford in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup final. The Lions did much better than the Kiwis.

England made it tough for Australia today and were the better side in the second half. They have shown a lot of improvements since the last tournament and there are promising signs ahead.

They’ve certainly done the entire country proud today. They reached the semi-finals in 2013, the final in 2017, can they go one better and win it in 2021? There is no reason why they can’t…

Well done on a fantastic tournament, England.

About Drew Darbyshire 8617 Articles
Love Rugby League Deputy Editor. Joined the site ahead of the 2017 World Cup and been a full-time reporter since 2018.

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