With news beginning to filter out that the NRL players will be turning down the opportunity of a Great Britain Lions tour next year, some serious questions need to be asked about international rugby league, and Australia’s place in it.
Some radical solutions are needed to re-awaken the interest of the global sporting public in our great game. Note the word ‘global’ in there, a concept which some in Australia clearly do not grasp.
So how about we retire the Kangaroos, and let the green and gold have a rest for a few years? After all, the recent World Cup showed that they do not draw the crowds that they used to do. Even in Sydney, internationals involving Australia seem to be treated with disdain by a cynical sporting public.
Let them play State of Origin until they are sick of the site of each other. If they want to play other countries, let them play as states. After all, Great Britain was recently broken down into its constituent ‘states’, which actually have less self-determination (currently) than New South Wales and Queensland.
Paltry crowds went to see the Kangaroos in their tour round outposts of the game in the British Isles last winter, during the World Cup. Crowds in Limerick and Wrexham were downright poor, and it is worth comparing the Roos with their nearest equivalents in rugby union, the New Zealand All Blacks.
People would turn up to watch the All Blacks play a South Yorkshire Merit Table team in a public park, such is their iconic status. They know that the bigger they build their brand, the more shirts and other merchandise they sell, particularly to non-Kiwis.
The fact that a gobal giant like Adidas partners with them should tell us all we need to know about how their marketing operation works, and what their philosophy is when it comes to building a brand identity.
The Roos used to have this kind of draw, too, especially in England. No more, though.
They are a team with a similar profile to the All Blacks in their home country, but there seems to be no comparable desire to reach out beyond that. Walk a street in any major British city, and it will not be long before you see someone wearing All Blacks kit. Seeing a Kangaroos jersey, even in the North of England, is a rare event indeed.
Most of those wearing NZ RU gear will not be Kiwis either, but they have bought into an identity and brand which helps to spread rugby union, increasing its grip on Europe and the world. It can be compared to the way that Brazil’s national soccer team, in their iconic yellow, exert a similar commercial grip on the world.
If the Kangaroos turned up anywhere outside Australia and parts of the North of England no one would give, to quote the venerable Paul Kent, “two hoots” about them. The Socceroos would probably get more of a crowd.
There is a arrogance about the men who represent Australia in rugby league these days, even if it is unintentional. There seems to be something lacking in charisma, even though these guys are some of the world’s best athletes. It appears that they are making little attempt made to reach out beyond Australia, and help the wider game gain a better global profile.
GB could try and tour New Zealand and the Pacific instead, one supposes, but the NRL influence would probably stymie that too. Another way of striking back would be to tell the Kangaroos that they are not welcome here for the Four Nations in 2016. Samoa, NZ and Scotland in with England would probably make for a better, more interesting tournament anyway.
Failure to re-awken the GB Lions will haunt this sport for years. Time to take action: rest the Kanagroos, and let people get their hunger back for proper international competition.