With no mid-season Test in 2018, the Kangaroos risk losing their relevance in the eyes of Australian rugby league fans.
We’ve read the story of the R.I.S.E. ethos, Mal Meninga’s high behavioural standards and putting the Australian jumper in the highest esteem.
But there’s a big problem: out of sight, out of mind.
The Anzac Test allowed the Kangaroos to start the representative season in places like Newcastle, Townsville and Melbourne.
For a week at least, fans weren’t talking about the Knights, Cowboys or Storm. They got to see the Australian rugby league team play.
May 2016 – Mal Meninga sat down with the Kangaroos for the first time since taking over as Coach.
This meeting gave birth to the RISE… pic.twitter.com/8epQgJ1FAS
— Australian Kangaroos (@Kangaroos) April 30, 2017
When the NRL announced the international game was given a “new priority”, with a dedicated window at the end of the premiership season, player welfare was a key reason. But the NRL has shot themselves in the foot in the short-term, as State or Origin will now be an 11-month conversation, instead of the Test team getting some initial talking points early.
The Kangaroos may be destined to go the way of how the Kiwis are perceived in New Zealand – a team that plays most of their games overseas.
If Australia’s end-of-year program will mean tours to Europe, New Zealand or the Pacific Islands, they will lose all relevance to Joe Rugby League Fan. Meninga has worked hard to raise the profile and talk up the team ever since he took the reins at the end of 2015.
So what can the Kangaroos do if they don’t meet until State of Origin finishes, just like the old days?
Spend a week touring the country, showcasing and promoting rugby league – and the Kangaroo brand – to Australia?
I just hope – for Meninga’s sake – there is serious thought about how the Australian team fits within the NRL’s wider strategy.
Maybe it is time for Meninga to resurrect his brief political career and do talks to rugby league fans across the country?
What then for New Zealand and the Pacific nations? If the NRL didn’t have all the cash, the Kiwis and the island countries could stage their own tournaments.
They could play a ‘Pacific Cup’ round-robin during State of Origin, or play some games in the Pacific instead.
Or perhaps there is a dedicated week of duties promoting the game in their countries, or even an International Nines tournament?
This week should be an opportunity for those responsible for promoting international football – and in charge of the strategy behind its future – to set clear goals about what they want to achieve.
— NRL (@NRL) May 1, 2017