World Cup highlights the “exponential growth” of international rugby league

Rugby League World Cup players international rugby league
Greece, Brazil and Jamaica made their World Cup debuts

World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton has called for the urgent implementation of a proper international calendar to be made on the back of this year’s tournament.

After five weeks and 61 matches across men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments, the 2021 World Cup reached its conclusion on Saturday. There were 67,502 inside Old Trafford for a predictable double triumph for Australia’s all-conquering Kangaroos and Jillaroos.

Apart from a men’s international between England and France in April, its unknown when the next international rugby league matches are for most of the nations who competed at the World Cup.

International Rugby League, the organisation responsible for running the global game, is hoping to finalise a calendar in December. However, it is being frustrated by difficult negotiations being conducted down under by the players’ union; and the Australia Rugby League Commission.

“I understand it’s complicated but something has to change,” said Dutton regarding the international scheduling.

“I think it’s going to take some bravery, some boldness and some vision – but all the components are there.

“There is exponential growth in international rugby league in the totality; and I don’t think the focus should be solely on the men’s game.

“The women’s, wheelchair and PDRL games can take to the sport to new heights alongside the men.”

There’s an appetite for international rugby league

Next week in Jerico, Colombia, the host nation will be joined by Brazil and Chile in the South American Championships. It acts as the first round of continental qualifying for 2025. Similar tournaments have already taken place in Bodrum, Turkey, and the Ghanaian capital Accra.

They are a world away from matching Australian might, which was underscored by the women’s clinical 54-4 final win over their closest rivals, New Zealand, before the stage was set for Meninga’s men to also wrap up their third straight title.

Yet from Jamaica’s debut, culminating in the scenes surrounding their first try from full-back Ben Jones-Bishop against New Zealand, to Brazil’s engaging Amazonas, the tournament served to underscore the enormous untapped potential of the international game.

Greece, plus America and Spain in the wheelchair tournament, also made their respective World Cup debuts. Dutton is optimistic all five nations can build on their initial forays.

“I’ve sat down with Jermaine Coleman and had a long conversations about Jamaica’s journey,” he said.

“Jamaica have such a chance because there’s development and growth in Kingston already. Romeo Monteith has done such work there.

“The World Cup gives you profile and visibility and scope for growth. I think that’s going to be felt in Jamaica.

“In Greece, we know through the work done with their Government with the team going to Athens has created visibility for them.

“Brazil is more complicated because of the size of the country but what it’s done is create an appetite for growth.

“With the USA and Spain wheelchair teams, you’re seeing new nations who in the men’s running game might never get to the latter stages of a World Cup. But the USA in particular, with the athletes they have at their disposal, it may well be possible that one day they lift a Rugby League World Cup. I think that’s brilliant.”

Mal Meninga: World Cup just shows where international game is going

Bolstered by strong television viewing figures and backed by Mal Meninga, one of its most persuasive of promoters, there appears to be genuine intent among many of the sport’s power-brokers in sustaining the future of the international sport.

“I’m in a position where I can say this, because I’m the coach of the World Cup winners, but I thought the whole tournament was an excellent showpiece and just shows where the international game is going,” said Meninga after his side’s 30-10 final win over Samoa.

“Having Samoa in there is great for the international game. I’m looking forward to the decision-makers making their next decision about where the game is going. I’m a great supporter of rugby league and I want it to prosper in a way that delivers for everyone.”

More World Cup content

Australia’s Ali Brigginshaw targets fourth World Cup title at France 2025

We’re in the history books: Junior Paulo proud of Samoa’s World Cup campaign

Australia’s Angus Crichton handed two-match ban after World Cup final win

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