Now it’s official that the Rugby League World Cup has been postponed, there is unsurprisingly a divide among fans. Some are simply devastated by the news while others argue that the correct decision has been made.
Firstly, I have to say, it absolutely is the right choice for the game even if some people have already called it the death knell for international rugby league. I can understand why they would think that because it looks like the NRL saying ‘You dance to our tune’. They are the ones who won’t allow their employees to fly over to England for the tournament, citing Covid-19 as their main problem, and in some ways, it is hard to blame them.
There are of course other rumours about, with some suggesting it is about money with increased flight prices and the cost of managing the risks of Covid-19 throughout the trip making it a non-starter for both the Kangaroos and the Kiwis. But this isn’t my main reason for agreeing that we should delay the competition, far from it. No, my reasoning is a lot simpler than that.
For more years than most of us can remember, Australia have dominated this competition, despite one surprise in 2008 when they lost the final to New Zealand. With other sides now emerging, particularly Tonga and Fiji, it does make for a more interesting spectacle, but let’s look at the bigger picture here as well.
For an extended period, Super League games, which would have included England, New Zealand, Tongan and Fijian internationals, have been falling foul of the pandemic. Sides have not been able to play for several weeks whilst others have not even been able to train.
At a time like this when one team is like a marauding giant over the rest, it’s difficult to make it a competitive competition anyway. The impact of the pandemic would arguably compound that with the Kangaroos’ few realistic rivals for the world crown, who have significantly less strength in depth, at risk of falling foul of the ‘pingdemic’.
So, what were the options? I know personally, I wouldn’t want to see a half-baked World Cup, with teams consisting of players who, in most cases, probably wouldn’t be anywhere near match fit because of a lack of game time.
A World Cup in any sport is meant to be the pinnacle, when players give absolutely everything they’ve got to be crowned World Champions. It is not meant to be some sort of end of season sideshow.
In the current climate, a spectacle it definitely would not be. However, take the sensible decision to delay it for a year, give the players time to rest and play regular rugby and you’ll get a World Cup that really means something, which will have to be won by a team playing at their very best to overcome every other side there, right here on our doorstep.
The last and perhaps most important point is that the BBC are set to show every minute of every game from this World Cup, so we need to capture the public imagination. As unfortunate and frustrating as the postponement is, we will likely see in the long run that this was a sensible and perhaps game-changing for our sport’s future.