Player commitment should be kicking in now in World Cup year

The Rugby League World Cup looks to be on course for an impressive tournament. Rugby league people are in charge of promoting it, and the ticketing and marketing campaigns have been well-organised and advertised.

Anticipation is rising among fans, and with a bit of luck we look set for an impressive tournament which can begin the rehabilitation on the world stage of international rugby league.

There is one glaring problem though, highlighted by the case of Huddersfield Giants halfback Danny Brough. 

Brough has had a problematic international past. Selected by Scotland, then ignored by England after making hiimself available. Not necessarily always the player’s fault, his situation of flip flopping between two countries exemplifies the issues with international rugby league.

But he has still not fully committed to Scotland this year, even as the game’s biggest international tournament nears, still seemingly holding out for a change of heart from Steve McNamara.

That change of heart looks unlikely. McNamara likes to use club combinations, especially those from Leeds Rhinos, in his international side. 

Which makes it look like the halves will be Kevin Sinfield, Danny Maguire and Rob Burrow, with Gareth Widdop and Rangi Chase adding some mercurial creativity.

Brough looks like missing out, especially with the way he has been playing recently seeming to indicate that he is back on his best form. 

Which is why it is baffling that he does not fully commit to Scotland, in the manner of his Huddersfield Giants team-mate Dale Ferguson, another who has returned from the England fold.

Any coach in any sport will tell you that knowing the personnel that will be vailable to them for a tournament is crucial. It becomes harder to plan combinations and structures when you are not sure of the players who will be involved.

Indeed, across the world, whether it be in the Pacific Islands or the Hebridean Islands, players are still slow to commit to countries in World Cup year.

This writer has actually spoken to players who are holding off doing it because it might affect their chances of a new professional club contract.

This is not right. Fans should be able to look forward to a strong tournament without having to guess which countries players will be turning out for.

We all know that this is one issue which is really holding back the development of developing rugby league nations, such as Ireland, Fiji and Scotland.

The answer is not easy, but a useful first step would be the establishment of a proper international governing body for the game, like FIFA in soccer or the IRB in the other code.

A full international calendar, including Great Britain tours, could then be formulated, with players committing to at least a World Cup cycle of four years for countries.

The schedule needs to have certain dates set aside for internationals and other rep footy, and to be harmonised across the globe. We would then know where we stand, and could get on with promoting the international game in a logical and sensible manner. 

Regular test matches mean more development for lesser nations, in every way, both off and on the park. Progress can be slow, but is being made.

Of course, harmonising the calendar and making the international structure logical might involve the NRL having to give something up. They might have to give some of the $Aus 2billion that they are expected to raise this year.

Or, perhaps more to the point, they might have to lose their pick of all the best Pacific players. Either way, no one is holding their breath. Sadly.

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