Is there a World Cup on?

At the time of writing we now know who at least one of the teams will be in the World Cup final.

No surprises at all that it will be the main host nation versus us or the Tongans.

What is a bit of a surprise, however, is the apparent lack of interest from Australian rugby league fans in their national team and the World Cup competition in general.

Crowds have been poor -“An embarrassment” the Aussie press have declared.

The only hard core enthusiasm seems to have come from the PNG, Samoan and Tongan fans, who have been fantastic.

It is well known that RL fans in Australia are passionate in their club loyalty and this extends to their fervour when it comes to the annual State Of Origin series. But why do they seem to have switched off to their national teams outings for the past few weeks, as well as having zero interest at all in any of the other matches that have taken place?

The answer must be to do with the organisation, planning and marketing of the competition.

The sight of the quarter full Sydney stadium and third full AAMI stadium in Melbourne for England’s matches against Lebanon and Papua New Guinea, respectively, were indeed embarrassing. It is probably correct to say that England and PNG fans made up the vast majority of the 10000 crowd for the latter, with a few hardy Aussie fans going along to make up the numbers and have a look at the team they expect to be playing their lot in the final.  A couple of fans from England reported that they went to a bar less than 15 minutes walk from the ground after the match in Melbourne and were flabbergasted that nobody in there had any idea that there had been a match played that day.

So what has been the problem?

I am convinced the big issue has been the fact that Sydney has been all but ignored during this competition. Just two matches will have been played there by the time it is all over. That statistic, to me, is stunning. Half of the NRL teams are based in Sydney. The place is a rugby league hotbed and yet the powers that be deemed it perfectly acceptable to play games, some as far as 3000 miles away, elsewhere in Australia. This is absolute bonkers!

Manly Sea Eagles fans would turn up in droves to see their national team play at the Brookvale Oval, but you’ll never get them to travel to Melbourne or Darwin to watch the same. The organisers missed a trick here to create something special for this World Cup. My suggestion would have been to get the Sydney clubs on-board and play matches at their grounds all over the city. I’m not just talking about the national team. Sydney could have become a global sports village for a month, with fans of all nationalities mingling together. Smaller stadiums hosting games that would have been open to anyone who wanted to go along to them. Partisan local fans swelling the numbers, regardless that they weren’t watching their usual team playing. TV coverage showing these smaller venues bursting with compact crowds and great atmosphere. I would have put good money on it that this would have been a success. And in being so, would have eliminated much of the negative press the competition has attracted.

Of course, there have been other factors that have adversely affected the way the World Cup has been viewed. All the matches played at weekends and then nothing until the following weekend. A seemingly daft seeding and pool system where teams that didn’t win a match progressed to the next stage and teams that won more than one match didn’t. This is all water under the bridge now and whilst it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, I think in hindsight, it has all come across as amateurish and not a little foolish.

So as we look ahead to the next World Cup, to be held in England in four years time, the organisers of that event must take a good look at how they can make big improvements in the way the competition is structured and marketed. The way Rugby Union is run puts us to shame. It has been right for so long that tickets for the autumn internationals virtually sell themselves and these are for matches that in terms of actual prestige, mean nothing.

What would be a major boost and help considerably is if the national team can go all the way and bring the World Cup home with them. This would be the perfect platform from which to start planning what could turn out to be a very successful competition in 2021.  We just have to make sure we learn from The Rugby League World Cup 2017.

We can but dream. COME ON ENGLAND!