Eye On Rugby League by Tony Williams
Today the Welsh Rugby League (WRL) will launch its 2006 season at the new Welsh Assembly Building in Cardiff which was opened by the Queen a fortnight ago. Like the Welsh governing body based at the new building, Welsh rugby league is feeling the benefit of power devolved from England, in our case the RFL.
The WRL will be announcing the expansion of the Welsh Premier League to ten clubs, while professional side Celtic Crusaders made their home debut on Sunday, with an impressive 78-14 win over London Skolars in front of a good crowd of 1,421, and hope to attract even more for the visit of Locomotiv Moscow at the weekend.
The main difference between what is happening now and past attempts to introduce rugby league to the Principality is that today's WRL is based on solid, grassroots foundations. Rugby league is being taught in schools, colleges and universities, the RL Conference has resulted in a strong amateur base and there are representative sides at all levels. In the past these foundations were not in place and, as a result, Welsh rugby league could not support itself.
Another major factor is the switch to summer rugby. Everyone knows that rugby union is the dominant sport in Wales, especially in the south, and any attempts to take on the WRU would result in almost certain failure. By playing through the summer, the two codes need not directly compete.
The Welsh national side is improving. Reaching the World Cup semi finals and pushing Australia all the way in 2000 was a major achievement, as was reaching the Euro Nations Cup final last season. The Welsh have high hopes of qualifying for the 2008 World Cup.
Wales have always been a natural rugby playing nation, and if they can establish rugby league it would be a huge boost to our game. Let's hope that this time Welsh RL is here to stay.
No Grounds For Optimism
Rugby league's organisational skills have always left much to be desired, and the latest confusion over stadiums has only added to that perception. Problems with Les Catalans Dragons, the Challenge Cup final and the Tri-Nations are the kind that would not be tolerated in other sports.
The Catalans are having difficulty staging their games against Castleford and Wakefield. Many Cas fans have already booked their trips to Figueras, only to find that the game has been switched to an undecided venue. Wakefield fans have had the same problem with Narbonne. It raises questions about whether the Catalans were ever ready to host Super League rugby.
The Challenge Cup final is another area of controversy. The FA have already had to switch their final away from the incomplete Wembley Stadium, having had the foresight to book the Millennium Stadium as well. The stadium will likely be ready to host the final, but it is time the RFL announced an alternative venue. The ground would have to be in London, as many fans have already booked their trip to the capital.
The Tri-Nations organisation, or lack of it, is a joke. Travelling fans need to book visits down under months in advance, but it is not yet certain even which country some of the games will be played in. The same goes for the 2008 World Cup.
It's time rugby league got its act together, because it is the fans and, by extension, the game that will suffer.
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