With STEVE MASCORD
THE NRL has too many opportunities to stage high profile representative games – and shuns many. The British game doesn’t have enough.
Friday morning, UK time, Australian Indigenous and New Zealand Maori teams meet in men’s and women’s matches at Melbourne’s AAMI Park to officially kick off the southern hemisphere season.
One man in the Indigenous team, Andrew Fifita, can play for New South Wales and Tonga. In Australia they not only have different levels of representation with different rules, but players like Fifita who seem to tick myriad different shaped boxes.
It is well documented that England, meanwhile, are isolated and less-than-flush with funds – a brutal combination given the tyranny of distance.
From what I can gather, the proposed Great Britain Tour is now dependent on the NRL successfully negotiating with the Rugby League Players Association for the Australian players to drop their match payments so the green-and-golds can take part in the gazetted Pacific series.
If that happens, Great Britain will play in a series of triple headers on the back of this series, saving money for ground hire, promotion and the rest. They still won’t play Australia.
If the negotiations are unsuccessful, Britain may still just go to New Zealand but the Kiwis are concerned they’ll lose money on a two-Test series and could also baulk, scuppering the whole thing. GB have pencilled in a PNG visit on the way home.
Australia would just host Tonga in one Test in this second scenario.
The thing is, Britain is at least as culturally diverse as Australia so why is there such a dearth of representative game opportunities in comparison to Down Under?
One of the reasons is it’s a very different society; you couldn’t have “Afro Caribbeans versus caucasians” to kick off the season in the UK any more than you could do it in America.
The Maori and Aborigines are indigenous cultures and events like Friday’s give them long-overdue recognition. The dynamics are very different to most other places in the world.
From the British leagues, the bulk of the French, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Jamaican and – as of very recently – Nigerian teams are drawn. But none of them are strong enough to consistently challenge England, who are the only side that can draw a crowd and attract mainstream media attention and the resulting sponsorship and broadcaster interest.
So what can the British game learn from the All Star game tomorrow and apply to a market where ethnic sensibilities are very different?
I’ve been dubious in the past about a West Indies side in our game. National teams draw on enormous wells of good will, sponsorship and government support because they ride the IP of a whole country. Drifting away from these borders is dangerous – even if, in this case, it’s been done in cricket.
You don’t win respect from outside your sport by having invented teams in international tournaments.
But as a combination to challenge England at home, mid season? I think the West Indies idea has legs – particularly in the lead-up to Jamaica’s involvement in the 2021 World Cup.
Rugby League will only get one shot at embracing the Jamaican community in the UK between now and 2021. This could be a big first step.
A West Indies team playing England at home over the next three years would allow us to take something away from the cultural aspect of the NRL’s All Star game without damaging the integrity of our international set-up.
Why don’t you name me an imaginary West Indies line-up to get the conversation started?