Monday 18 December 2017 / 02:58 AM

FOUR NATIONS MASKS STAGNANT INTERNATIONAL GAME

International Rugby League at the moment is somewhat farcical. We have a system presently that’s anti-growth and exclusive, where the best teams in the world spend most of their time playing each other.

Since 2001, New Zealand has played 77 Tests – 39 of them against Australia, 10 against England and 13 against Great Britain. Just 15 of those Tests have been played against other Test sides.

It’s a similar trend for Australia, when you look at their record from 2005 until now. They’ve played 56 Tests in that time, 32 of which have been against New Zealand alone, while eight more have been against England and four against Great Britain. They’ve played just 12 times against other nations.

In the past, the onus was on the British, Australian and New Zealand sides to spread the game around their own country and the world – take it to new areas. This saw the game spread like wildfire through France in the mid 1930s.

The game was being proposed to be taken to the USA as far back as 1910 when NSWRL Secretary Edward Larkin first proposed the idea. By the 1960s the game had been played at the highest level in South Africa, international matches had been played in Italy by Australia, and an exhibition game between Australia and New Zealand had been played Stateside.

Tour games even went to new horizons. Every nation was working towards building and expanding the game and, sure, in some cases it didn’t work as well as in others, but the effort was being made.

Today, though, it seems that International football has become a do-or-die system, where nations that can afford to help and promote the game in emerging nations simply don’t bother. Presently we are in the middle of a Four Nations competition which, if we’re honest, is a glorified tri-series that offers a condescending moment in the sun for one nation, while they get beaten comprehensively by the three main sides.

More needs to be done by the three superpowers to promote the game – and it shouldn’t be too hard a task.

Australia, New Zealand and England seemingly have no interest in returning to the tours of the past, which were magnificent for promoting the game in new regions and were the highlight of most representative stars’ careers, instead opting for the simpler and more boring Four Nations, where we see the same three sides playing all the time.

Why not have two separate Four Nations competitions: one for Pacific teams and one for European Teams?

This would at least get more nations involved on the big stage on a more regular basis which could only be a good thing for the game. And let every nation have first choice over which players they will select, leave the rest for the three major nations to choose from. It will bring Australia, New Zealand and England back to the field a little and improve all the other nations significantly.

Samoa, Fiji and Tonga have made giant strides in recent years, yet Samoa – so impressive in the 2014 Four Nations – have not been grant a Test against one of the ‘Big Three’ in the two years since, while Fiji and Tonga will have had no internationals against the heavyweights between the 2013 and ’17 World Cups.

If something different doesn’t happen soon, then people will grow tired of watching Australia and New Zealand play each other all the time. And once the major sides stop getting interest at the international level, we then have a major issue that will impact all nations that may not be easy to reverse.

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About the author

Andrew Ferguson

A rugby league historian and stats buff – most notably as the brains behind the phenomenal Rugby League Project resource – Melbourne-based Andrew has written extensively for Rugby League Review and the Men of League magazine, and is a valued addition to CBS’s rugby league stable.

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