I was saddened this week to see the reaction of Australian pundit Paul Kent to the prospect of watching Samoa v Fiji this weekend.
For anyone who didn’t see the clip on Fox Sports, he said, “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t care two hoots about Samoa versus Fiji. Who really wants to sit down and watch that game?”
This attitude from Australians is exactly why rugby league is not growing internationally. The dissatisfied hordes in the UK can moan about the RFL all they like, but any and every effort to develop the game internationally runs into the brick wall of boneheaded Aussie attitudes like Kent’s.
It is such a short-sighted view. International rugby league used to be seen in the same light as rugby union is now in Europe. Great Britain against Australia or New Zealand was a highlight of terrestrial TV schedules in the 1980s, attracting huge audiences, and making stars of the likes of Shaun Edwards and Ellery Hanley.
Samoa against Fiji looks set to be a cracking contest. It would be even better if it was being played in one of those two countries, but if that happened, then someone would actually have to pay for something. Never underestimate the forces of greed and miserliness in the NRL. Far less expensive to play it in Sydney, after all.
This short-sighted attitude is crippling the game. We are not the AFL. We are not an Australian sport. Development means more potential professionals to sign for the world’s big leagues. More players in more countries means more sponsorship and endorsement opportunities.
Perhaps Kent’s attitude has more to do with the fact that Australia just want to pick all the best Pacific players for State of Origin and the Kangaroos. Maybe if they focused on picking more Australians, especially Aborigines, the game might be a little stronger ethically than it is currently.
International contests grab the imagination. Samoa v Fiji sounds like a cracking game to me. Imagine a Premier League soccer pundit writing off an international play-off between, say, Holland and Belgium, in a similar way. It just would not happen.
Hull FC veteran Richard Whiting has offered a similar viewpoint in his Hull Daily Mail column this week, staying how much he and his team-mates are relishing the prospect of the New Zealand v Australia clash. There is a massive urge and drive in the northern hemisphere to grab a moment and exploit it internationally.
Sadly, with people like Paul Kent having their say, the insularity of Australia will undoubtedly prevent that happening. However much we want to see a vibrant international calendar, it will never happen until the Paul Kents of this world can actually pull their heads out of whichever orifice they are currently in and try and see the big picture.
Rugby union, whether we like it or not, is growing internationally all the time. Their World Cup in the UK could well dwarf ours in terms of coverage. The perception from many ‘rah rahs’ that we are a “dying sport” (when they even think about us at all), will only strengthen, damaging our ‘brand’ in the process. The growing use of the word ‘rugby’ to mean just union in the UK is a sign of this.
The relative weakness of Australian rugby union currently only makes the situation worse. The most insular NRL fans therefore cannot see just how big RU is now in Europe. It has also made massive strides in the USA. The green shoots we have seen recently in our sport will wither and die under a massive union onslaught, unless we can offer meaningful international games.
And Fiji v Samoa is exactly the kind of game we need more of, thanks Paul Kent.