Exclusive: IRL pleased with Pacific Championships programme – but deliver northern hemisphere warning

John Davidson
New Zealand celebrate their Pacific Cup triumph - Alamy

New Zealand celebrate their Pacific Cup triumph - Alamy

International Rugby League chairman Troy Grant is happy with the performance of the inaugural Pacific Championships but admits there are lessons to be learned for the sport in the northern hemisphere. 

The Pacific Championships took place through October and November, involving six nations in the southern hemisphere broken into two separate tournaments.

Current World Cup holders Australia, New Zealand and Samoa participated in the Pacific Cup, which was won by the Kiwis, in matches played in Townsville, Auckland, Melbourne and Hamilton, with an average attendance of 18,916 per match.

There were also women’s internationals between the Jillaroos, Kiwi Ferns and Tonga played alongside the men’s games. 

Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Cook Islands competed in the Pacific Bowl, which was taken out by the Kumuls, with all games hosted in Port Moresby with an average attendance of 10,872 per game.  

The Pacific Championships will take place again next year and Grant is confident attendances and interest in the tournament will grow in time. 

“We’re very pleased with the international season, the Pacific Championships in their inaugural year with a late lead in time were always going to be challenged to secure crowds and generate a following,” he told Love Rugby League. 

“That is the exact purpose of a calendar to give fans and supporters confidence in content building rivalries and a narrative for the international game.  

“I’m confident it will build in time with the right support and investment into a wonderful bookend for rugby league each season.” 

While the Pacific Championships were on Tonga toured England for the first time, with England securing a 3-0 series whitewash. The series averaged an attendance of 13,195 per match. 

“Tonga’s historic tournament was also a plus but there are lessons to be learnt for the future in the northern hemisphere,” Grant admitted.  

“It’s a difficult market with loud calls for content but non-commensurate levels of support.  

“Again, it’s early days and sustained investment and more known content will help sustained growth.” 

England’s plans for 2024

England celebrate after 3-0 series win over Tonga - Alamy England celebrate after 3-0 series win over Tonga – Alamy

England have suffered a setback with Samoa pulling out of a proposed tour to the northern hemisphere in 2024, and are now looking for top tier opponent for next year. 

The calendar has England touring Australia in 2025 to contest the Ashes. 

Grant says the format of next year’s Pacific Championships, and whether it will include Toa Samoa or not, will determined as soon as possible, with the IRL board meeting this week. 

“The commentary is disappointing around Samoa not touring in 2024, while no decisions or formal arrangements were in place, a new governance and coach have the right to choose their ‘path’ as sovereign nations,” Grant said.

“On who and where they play, not being aware Samoa was the preferred tourist (to the UK) for 2024 is disingenuous.” 

Troy Grant on his decision to step down as IRL boss

In August it was reported that Grant will step down as boss of the IRL at the end of this year, citing work pressures with his other full-time employment. 

The Australian, a former policeman and deputy premier of NSW, was appointed by the IRL in March 2021.  

He also currently serves as the Inspector-General of Water Compliance Australia. 

The 53-year-old said he will stay on in the IRL role until his replacement is secured. 

“There’s no timeframe set for me to depart,” Grant said.  

“I have two years remaining on tenure so the Board will do the recruitment process and I’ll stay until they’ve identified a replacement.  

“I’m not abandoning (the IRL) – just moving on as my workload has increased dramatically and I no longer have the time needed to run the IRL.  

“I’ll stay and chip in for as long as I’m asked and for the amount of time I can commit.  

“Not being able to attend a single match due to massive work/travel commitments reinforced my decision.  

“I’ve watched every match on TV but I couldn’t attend, which isn’t what the game needs going forward, especially on the commercial-growth side.  

“I’m leaving all my ideas and initiatives. I’ve humbly been asked to stay but I’m trying to do the right thing by the game.” 

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