The big kick off – supposedly

Last Friday saw those smaller international sides take their first tentative steps along the road that leads to Australia for the 2008 Rugby World Cup. It was Russia and Holland that kicked of the event, with the Russian side securing a 40-14 win over their less experienced opponents.

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This was the first in a series of European qualifiers to determine which nation will go through into the main European qualifiers next year that will decide which nations make it through to the finals down under.

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But, it has to be said, as big kick offs go the whole thing was a bit of a damp squib. Apart from a brief mention in the trade newspapers and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) website there was virtually no coverage at all.

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Okay, these sides are not the best. I doubt Russia could cope with LHF National League Two football while the Dutch would, in all likelihood, come unstuck in the National Conference League. But that does not change the fact that this is the beginning of one of the biggest tournaments in our game’s history.

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Besides, the preliminary round of the Challenge Cup is always greeted with a certain amount of attention, as it is the beginning of the road to Wembley (or Twickenham). No one is ever at pains to point out that these teams will be lucky to reach round two.

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We all, rightly, complain about lack of media coverage when it comes to our great game, but on occasions like this rugby league shoots itself in the foot.

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For one, this event should have been hyped. In this day and age no matter how good the quality of a sporting event, it is the hype that wins over both the media and the public. We should have made it clear to everyone the meaning of this game.

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Secondly, the sport can only blame itself for not organising the tournament properly. We were in the dark about this year’s Gillette Tri-Nations until only a few weeks ago, so information from the 2008 World Cup is hardly likely to be available.

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This, in a week were the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced the venue of the 2013 Cricket World Up. In Australia they are still debating whether to even have this tournament, which is in honour of their own centenary. The qualifiers may have started but there is a fair chance that the teams that win their way through may be going nowhere. 

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We can only hope that the World Cup is a success but, this being rugby league, something will always stand in the way.

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For now, I’d like to wish all the best to those teams involved in the qualifiers. These nations are, let’s hope, the future of rugby league.

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Dual Code Delight

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Saturday night’s game at the Twickenham Stoop between Harlequins and Huddersfield Giants was a good one for anyone who believes that cooperation between the two codes of rugby football is healthy.

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The union/league double header at the Stoop will have brought a great deal of benefit to the Quins RL, as many union fans stayed behind after their side’s game to watch the engage Super League action. Many said that they would come back again.

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Now that rugby league is a summer sport, there is very little, if any, conflict between the two codes, and this has shown that they can complement one another. Rugby league will need the help of rugby union to continue spreading throughout the nation. Many totalrl.com Conference sides would not survive without the local union club.

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I did have my doubts at first, but the dual-code Harlequins are showing that their project can work, and that means a brighter future for rugby league in our capital.

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The National Game

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This week sees the kick off of the totalrl.com ‘Summer’ Conference, a competition which has been at the forefront of rugby league expansion for the last nine years. The Conference is instrumental in grassroots expansion, the only real kind of expansion, throughout the country.

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New clubs that are flying the flag for rugby league in new areas of the country, such as St Albans Centurions, Hemel Hempstead Stags, Celtic Crusaders and London Skolars, are all there thanks to these rugby league pioneers.

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The Conference was founded in 1997 with ten teams, which has now expanded to around eighty. It has given birth to Northern, Central and Southern Premier Leagues, as well as the new Welsh Rugby League and LHF Healthplan National League Three. There are also Conferences in Scotland and Ireland.

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Almost every fan has a Conference club near to them, so give that club your support, because they are laying the foundations for the future of our great game.

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Keep Your Eye On Rugby League