Sticking to what we know

So it is official then, the 2017 Rugby League World Cup will be held in Australia and New Zealand.

Today’s announcement, as you would expect, was met with a mixed reaction, as fans were split on whether South Africa was a better option.

Nigel Wood, who’s never-ending job description includes the role of Rugby League International Federation vice-chairman, was complimentary of the South African bid, but there was probably only ever going to be one winner.

Last year’s tournament, spread between England, Wales, Ireland and France, was a genuine success, providing fans with exactly what they wanted – hard-hitting action and a celebration of rugby league culture. Afterwards there was a real hangover, and it was well-earned. The host stadiums and communities embraced the different players and fans, and although Australia strolled over the finish line in the end, they enjoyed a memorable journey along the way.

The legacy of an international tournament is the memories it creates, and although the spectacle of a first ever African World Cup would have done that automatically, are they really ready?

The 2010 football World Cup was a fantastic event, and South Africa deserve all the credit they received, but it is worth mentioning that the country – and the continent as a whole – is football-mad. In the Springboks, South Africa also has one of the most famous institutions in rugby union, but their rugby league side did not even make it to the 2013 World Cup.

As with many of the up-and-coming rugby league countries, they need time to produce their own quality players, and having the pressures of being a host nation in 2017 would be well ahead of schedule. South Africans are knowledgeable and passionate sports fans, but would there be much national interest if their own team were not to make it out of the group stage?

Undoubtedly, that issue will not arise with Australia and New Zealand, who will joint-host the tournament for the third time.

Their World Cup bid ticks every box, with great stadia, thousands of fans and gorgeous weather. The Kangaroos, Kiwis and (hopefully) England will lead the way in the tournament, but all of the other qualified nations will also be excited by the prospect of playing in some of the most famous rugby league settings. Australia and New Zealand know how to market rugby league, and they absolutely adore the game.

On social media there have been remarks from fans that an opportunity to expand rugby league has been missed by not picking South Africa. It is not as simple as that though, and having the tournament in a growing rugby league nation would not achieve expansion by default.

The tournament must be a product that is globally entertaining, so who better than the two countries who amaze us year-on-year with the skill of the NRL, and the sheer drama of events such as the State of Origin series.

Personally, I can’t wait. Now we just need announcements on the Four Nations and Lions tour…

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