It was with some interest that I followed the comments made by NRL head of strategy and game development Shaun Richardson to reporters Down Under this week.
As well as outlining ideas to improve talent development in New Zealand, allowing more Kiwi youngsters to stay in their home country rather than travelling to Australia, Richardson also mooted ideas to take a game to the USA, and establish a World Nines.
All three ideas are to be welcomed, and welcomed a lot more heartliy than the naming of the silly World All Stars team.
While the notion of an Australian Indigenous team is a great concept, it needs to play better games than against a ‘World’ team in which most of the players are eligible for Australia.
Taking matches to the United States seems such an obvious idea, though it’s pretty amazing that people in Australia still seem to want to drag their heels over it.
When it comes down to it, people in markets like the USA and Canada do not care about Queensland and New South Wales, they’ve never heard of them in most cases.
They are drawn to games where their nation competes against other nations, not some local squabble, however lucrative a property that squabble may have mutated into.
Richardson’s comments regarding New Zealand were also interesting.
If our game is to develop at international level in the way that it should, then a strong New Zealand is vital.
A second NRL team in NZ would not only help Kiwi youngsters develop their talents at home, but also have a knock-on effect for the Pacific Island nations.
One senses, however, that there is quite a lot of fear about this amongst certain sections of spectators in Australia, who would rather the Kangaroos just stayed number 1 forever.
A locked in international window will also help.
As for the absurd World All Stars concept, in which half the players picked for the ‘World’ seem to be eligible for State of Origin teams, it’s a nonsense.
Hopefully, Richardson’s comments indicate that nonsense events like this are to end, and be replaced with meaningful international competition.
Integrating the Auckland Nines with the All Star game into a truly international event, with teams from Europe and national teams also invited to take part, would be a better idea.
An Indigenous squad can compete in the Nines, along with a Maori team, and sides from Fiji, PNG, Samoa and Tonga. Maybe even countries like Scotland and Wales could send national teams.
That would be a genuine celebration of the international game, then, rather than a silly idea that pays demeaning lip service to it.
We’ve had too much lip service, fudges, procrastination and disrespect when it comes international rugby league over the last two decades.
Shane Richardson has shown the way to ending that, and building a sport which can market itself effectively across the globe, rather than just to New South Wales and Queensland.