League's global aim
Phil Clarke foresees rugby league growing up to rival rugby union as a world sport, eventually.
Last Updated: 29/09/11 10:41am
The Rugby Union World Cup, or 'Rugby World Cup' as they call it, is gathering pace and an increasing amount of media coverage. It even competes with football for the back pages of the daily newspapers as the home nations attempt to qualify for the knock-out phase.
It would be easy for followers of the 13-a-side game to feel like the little brother as countries like Namibia and Japan turn out teams in New Zealand.
I think, therefore, that it's important at this time to highlight the international game of rugby league. Some of you will be aware of Bill Arthur's excitement last week when the Tromso Polar Bears (his favourite team) won the Norwegian Grand Final, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. As our roving reporter on rugby league, Bill might be clocking up some more air miles soon!
The Rugby League European Federation (R.L.E.F) has recently been awarded funding via the European Commission to support its partner countries - Ireland, Holland, Germany, Norway, the Czech Republic and the UK.
This money is essential in helping the game to grow by providing coaching and match official development. This is the first time that the R.L.E.F has received significant investment from the E.C and it's an important step in helping the game develop in Europe.
Next month sees the European qualifiers for the 2013 Rugby League Word Cup (as the promoters of the first Rugby World Cup in 1958, it's just a pity that we never thought to register the name!).
Italy, Lebanon, Russia and Serbia will battle it out to play in England and Wales in 2013. The Italians have a significant advantage with players like Anthony Minichiello and Craig Gower available - but the Lebanese are tough opponents. In the 2000 World Cup, most of the Lebanese players came from Australia. This time around they'll have players who've learned to play the game of rugby league in Lebanon.
The Russians take some confidence into their games on the back of their success in the Slavic Cup. Their victory over the Ukraine was expected but still gives them the taste of success. The game in the Ukraine is still a few years behind the Russians but remains another country for Bill to visit for a Boots 'n' All feature!
The Ukrainian Rugby League team travel to Serbia this week as part of a two-month tour. It won't help them get into the next World Cup but it's further evidence of the growth of the game in eastern Europe. They will contest the Milan Kosanovic Cup, named after the Yugoslavia-born hooker who starred for Wakefield in their 1962 victory over Wigan at Wembley.
The Serbia squad is made up of players from the domestic champions, the Dorcol Spiders, who won the title for the 10th time recently. Their battles with Lebanon in the Mediterranean Cup have always been fiery events where only the strong survive. 27 of the 30-man Serbia squad play their rugby league in Serbia and the game continues to grow in that region.
The reward for the winners of this six-match series is a place in Group B with Scotland and Tonga in the 2013 World Cup. Whilst talking of the Scots, it's worth mentioning some of the players to look out for in the future. Super League clubs are now starting to look further afield with their recruitment and it's encouraging to see both Hull FC and Hull KR sign players who've started playing the game north of the border.
Chad McGlame and David Scott could go on to be as successful on Humberside as George Fairburn.
A similar thing could be said about Irish rugby league. They now have a better organised domestic structure with more teams playing and it's interesting to see that St Helens have signed two players from over there. Aaron McCloskey and Ian Cross may go on to become the next Brian Carney. When you think about it, there must be several other Irishmen who could make it at rugby league. The newly-appointed Irish coach, Mark Aston, will hopefully open the door for more Irish talent to emerge.
The remaining place in Group D of the 2013 World Cup is a battle between South Africa, the USA and Jamaica. Canada have recently been playing against these teams but arrived too late for this World Cup. The winners will join hosts Wales and the Cook Islands.
All of a sudden, rugby league does start to look like a global game, or at least one that's growing a global appeal. I realise that the numbers playing are much smaller than in rugby union, but there are some seeds of growth on which to build.
The 2013 World Cup excites me now but in my opinion it's vital that the International Federation try to build a realistic plan which is regularly monitored to ensure that the 2017 competition is much bigger.