Commonwealth Nines provides glittering spark of optimism

The Rugby League Commonwealth Championship, held last weekend in Cumbernauld, near Glasgow, gave many reasons for optimisim.

Representative teams from Papua New Guinea, Australia, Wales, Canada, Scotland, England, Jamaica and South Africa contested a competitive tournament which threw up several shocks.

Clyde FC’s Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld, near Glasgow, hosted the event.

England‘s decision to use amateur players was certainly admirable, as it put some of the amateur game’s best players in the spotlight. Sadly for the English, they came up short.

A particular highlight for the home crowd in Scotland was when that English team was beaten by the Scots in the fifth place play-off on the second day.

Scotland‘s team included several players, such as Harvey Burnett, who are at Super League clubs’ academies. But it also contained more home-based amateurs, in a sign that the game North of the Border is bubbling along nicely, despite what some of its detractors may think.

Scotland is a notoriously difficult sporting ‘market’ to crack, with soccer a national obsession, even more so than in England. Scottish rugby union also has an especially bitter history of resistance to rugby league, which thankfully is now beginning to break down, largely thanks to the work of community coaches such as Jamie Seery.

Wales also performed strongly to win the bronze medal, with the young Welsh players all coming from the South Wales Scorpions outfit.

The Welsh party produced the two top points scorers in the tournament, with one of them, top try scorer James Taylor, having converted from rugby union outfit Ospreys.

As for Australia, the decision to send the Sydney Roosters youngsters seemed to be a double-edged sword. The party included six Kiwis who are currently on the Roosters’ books.

The young Australians drew with Scotland on the first day, before losing to PNG in the final on the second.

New Zealand, for reasons of their own, chose not send a team, which was disappointing, but at least it allowed Canada to compete.

The Canadians were in many ways the story of the tournament. A disparate bunch of rugby union, ice hockey and Canadian football converts, they showed just what can be achieved when enthusiasm and passion back up raw ability.

Cole Keffer of Canada summed up the kind of enthusiasm which the youngsters playing in the tournament showed.

“It was amazing,” he said.

“It was definitely the experience of a lifetime. We came in as tournament challengers, determined to play our best, but we had no idea how we were going to do.

“But this result, just speaking for my opinion, has made my rugby career.

“We were just a bunch of guys coming here to have fun, but I think we showed the world what Canada’s all about, and hopefully we’ll do it all again.

“I think it will definitely be the launch of rugby league in Canada. It shows we have a spot competing against all these great rugby nations that we’ve looked up to for so long.

“I never dreamed of playing against these countries, and beating them.”

Hopefully this marks the start of something big for rugby league in the Commonwealth Games. It is also worth noting that the attendances of just over 500 on each day were only a little bit less than Clyde FC usually get for their home games at Broadwood.

For a country with no professional rugby league presence, and a developing, rather than fully established, amateur scene, that is a fair effort.

The real stars were, of course, the winners, and it was great to see the rugby league-obessed nation of PNG finally pick up a tangible international honour.

Hopefully, they will have a hard time defending their title, however. This is for the simple reason that it would be great next time if New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga also send teams, along with Malta, to give the event an event an even more international flavour.

Who knows, we might then see some genuine Super League and NRL talent on show, all in a format which makes the game ideally accessible for emerging markets.

Watch highlights of the Rugby League Commonwealth Championships here.

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