State of Origin, in some ways, is showing the way for Test rugby league to flourish. I invite you to dream with me.
The year is 2020. Origin and international football have dedicated windows. The National Rugby League is only 22 rounds. Pauline Hanson has left politics.
Australian, New Zealand, English and Pacific Island players all get 10 days to spend in camp to prepare for their matches, all played on dedicated weekends. All teams get regular media conferences. Captains get to speak their mind, addressing issues and building interest for their respective matches.
To borrow Cadbury’s perennial phrase: wouldn’t that be nice?
The NRL – I’m talking the organisation, not the competition – has a luxury not many other sports do. They have three marque forms of their game. NRL matches: a club rivalry with rich histories. Origin: a high-quality spectacle with the best Australian players. Then, you have Test football: pride and passion. Some have rich history. Others are carving their own stories from young beginnings, like Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.
We know they’ve committed to introducing a dedicated international window from 2018 onwards. There is commitment to continue to build the “Pacific Test” brand and those nations, as previously reported in League Passport.
So what can we learn from the wonderful, thrilling entertainment of Origin, and apply to our Test program?
Give the players time and space to prepare appropriately, rather than going into camp on Monday for a Friday blockbuster. If Test jerseys are deemed the highest honour in the game – something Cameron Smith and Mal Meninga have both said many times recently – then give the event the respect and lustre it deserves. Give marketers are chance to promote it. Give players a chance to prepare appropriately, so the media can digest and create hype.
Tests can’t and won’t be able to compete with the high-quality, high-intensity of State of Origin matches. Australians are the best rugby league country in the world, period. Forget the RLIF rankings. Australia could produce four Tests of international quality. They are the All Blacks of rugby league.
But people who watch Test matches do so because they are invested in the pride that comes with following your country. Tell us about the cultural initiatives, the programs to spread the sport in the different countries, tell us about the home-grown and developing players in each nation. That’s why we watch Tests.
Origin will always have a place at the forefront of most rugby league fans’ appreciation. But Test matches – and the NRL and RLIF – must realise that a few days’ preparation isn’t going to sustain international football long-term. We can learn from Origin by following its example.
Give it time.