Time for rugby league to stop worrying and be proud of who we are

Forget the Rugby World Cup. In fact, forget everything else.

St Helens v Wigan is rugby league. If we can’t shout up and be proud of that, then we might as well pack up and go home.

If people don’t want to join us, then that’s their problem, their loss.

We can forever chase the expansionist dream or a truly international game.

But let’s do it by being proud of what we do have, by showcasing the best of rugby league and not being ashamed of our roots and how we came in to being.

It’s time for rugby league to stop being scared of how its perceived, time for rugby league fans to stop being paranoid about how it’s being persecuted and time to thrive.

Forty-20 publisher and rugby league evangelist Phil Caplan couldn’t have put it better when he tweeted in the aftermath of Saints’ gripping late victory over their archest rivals: “You really don’t need to ‘worry’ about another sport when yours is so good – for 120 years it’s been about selling it with conviction”

The problem is, rugby league does worry. And it doesn’t sell itself with conviction.

I must admit to being irked when I received a promotional text message from the RFL on Friday afternoon, offering me 50% discount off £20 tickets for the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.

That’s £10 to watch what is meant to be the biggest club game in the northern hemisphere (perhaps with the exception of the Challenge Cup final).

It smacks of desperation. Yes, we want to see a sold out Old Trafford. But I would rather see it half full with people paying proper prices. 

That at least then gives you room for improvement, a genuine yardstick to base progression of the game.

Practically giving away tickets is not the way forward.

Yes, people will complain that times are hard, not everyone can afford to go every game and that I get in free anyway (I’ve actually paid for my Grand Final ticket every year I have gone, having opted not to work – even before my self-enforced absence from rugby league press boxes this year).

But it cost me £20+ to watch Wakefield v Widnes in the Super 8s Qualifiers at Belle Vue.

Yet I can watch the two best teams in the country at the greatest club sport ground in the country for less than half the price.

There’s enough people who love rugby league, who have been exposed to rugby league and who might have been alienated from rugby league to grow a bloody fine domestic league in its own right.

Super League and the Championship are the bread and butter, the foundations to which the strength of rugby league should be built.

International rugby union is significantly stronger than ours, so we should stop the comparisons. There is enough in the rivalry between Australia, England (maybe GB) and New Zealand to justify the international feel.

There seems to be little benefit in having antipodean-filled European sides, such as Italy, who can beat England one year and then lose to Serbia the next, having had to go back to picking domestic amateur players.

It needs steady, sustainable growth. And while that happens, the club game can grow.

The NFL doesn’t have an international game, and of course it has significantly greater resources, but it showcases its product brilliantly, and I know that there is a desire amongst the RFL to improve the whole product of rugby league – shown already by small things, such as the pre-game presentation of players lining up before the flags.

Rugby league isn’t perfect and things aren’t all rosy, but it needs us as fans to get behind it.

The climax of the Super League season will be a thriller, and we should make the most of that.

It’s a shame that not all three decisive games can be played at the same time next week, though in truth, St Helens game against Warrington probably has the least chance of being decisive in the race for first place given that Saints would need to beat the Wolves by at least 60 points more than Huddersfield beat Leeds.

The Giants play the Rhinos and Wigan host Castleford in a final day of drama on Friday that promises to have many twists and turns.

And if that’s not enough, we’ve got the exciting new play-off format where we’re straight in to semi-finals and then the big day at Old Trafford.

Enjoy it and be proud.

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