- May 22, 2004
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- Club or Nation
Hey guys, I posted this on 'The Roar' the other day. Have a look and let me know what you think:
This weekend is “rep week” in rugby league. We have a much-maligned trans-Tasman Test, followed by an irrelevant ‘city versus country’ match and a qualifying match where Samoa play Fiji for a spot in the four nations.
So what is the mood like in the lead up to this seemingly important week? Steve Mascord summed it up in theSydney Morning Herald by suggesting we not only cancel rep week, but abandon Kangaroos Tests altogether.
He suggested we treat them like the NBA’s USA ‘Dream Team’; a side that really only plays to boost the profile of the sport in developing markets. Mascord is at least partly right here. Rep week is an unnecessary break in momentum at a point when the NRL was just beginning to gather a head of steam.
I was at the Roosters versus Dragons Anzac Day clash – one of three matches on Friday either sold out or close to it – and the entire day was brilliant. From the lead-up with the Anzac Day ceremony, to the atmosphere at the Sydney Football Stadium and the on-field action (from a Roosters perspective at least). It was just what the NRL needed after a slow start to the season, and definitely left most of us at the match hungry for more days like it. So why follow such a meaningful weekend with such a meaningless one?
It simply doesn’t make sense, either from club perspective or a representative one. So I agree with Mascord on this count; we should get rid of rep week altogether, as it serves no purpose where it is and just cuts the season up.
That said, I don’t agree with him on the Kangaroos.
It’s popular to bag international rugby league as not being competitive and argue that Origin is where it’s at, but has anyone looked at the winners tables lately? Because last time I checked Queensland hasn’t lost a series since 2005.
Compared to that, the “credibility” of international league suddenly looks a lot less questionable. With a World Cup victory, and two Four Nations/Tri Nations ***les to their names since 2005, the Kiwis now have had a more competitive rivalry with the Kangaroos than the Blues have had with Queensland. Shocking, but true.
So what’s the problem with international league if it’s arguably more competitive than the coveted Origin series? Scheduling. This mid-year Test is played at a time that gives the Kiwis a clear handicap, and it’s not like they need one.
In addition, the match comes out of nowhere. The NRL season is just starting to warm up, and all of a sudden there’s this Test that interrupts everything. It’s very poorly thought out from a marketing perspective.
Ideally, the rugby league calendar ought to build up towards the representative season. The NRL should run uninterrupted until it’s completion, and then be followed by a State of Origin series, with the year culminating in a Tri Nations series (no Four Nations, but I’ll get to that). The year is a little crowded as it is, so how do we achieve that and still have a decent off season?
First, we cut the NRL to 24 rounds and start it at the very end of February/beginning of March, so that it finishes in early September. After the grand final, there should be a two-week break and then the Origin series should begin, played out on successive weekends. So none of this dislocated nonsense where it takes six weeks to play three games; just three weeks in a row of back to back Origin.
Now, on the last week of Origin you start the international season, the centrepiece of which should be the Tri Nations. As I said above, the Four Nations should be scrapped. Why? Because it’s trying to do something that is really the role of the Rugby League World Cup; give small nations exposure to the big stage. That’s fine for a World Cup, but having France or Fiji in a Four Nations tournament makes no sense, as all they do is cop wall-to-wall beatings.
To counter this, there should be a second-tier tournament concurrent with the Tri Nations made up of the developing nations. You could have it involve France, Papua New Guinea, and the PI nations in a Five Nations league. That would be far more suitable to developing interest in the game in new markets than having one lower tier team in a Four Nations cop 50-plus score lines for a month.
Getting back to the Tri Nations, the currently preferred model of playing in a pool and deciding the trophy with a “final” should be scrapped. A competition with three/four teams doesn’t require a grand final, and having one makes no sense. A league model is far more suitable, and I’d suggest that the former rugby union Tri Nations model is perfect here. Have each team play home-and-away and decide the champions on points.
In order to maximise space in the calendar, the Tri Nations should start in the final week of Origin with a New Zealand versus England encounter in New Zealand.
This will both help compress the season a little, while also giving England and New Zealand the advantage of more time together.
Following this there should be a one-week break, so Origin can properly conclude and the Australian team get a full two weeks together before playing a match. This would give the rugby league season a far more rational structure and help return the status of international rugby league to its former pre-Origin era glory.
Broadcasting rights remain a stumbling block for this more logical approach, but in terms of future development and building the appeal of international rugby league, it’s a no-brainer in my view.