In terms of the English game, rugby league is undoubtedly a northern-based sport. After all, the first ever game of the sport was contested all the way back in 1895 in Huddersfield after a split from the Rugby Football Union concerning the payment of players. Of course, the game itself isn’t exclusively played in Northern England – the game remains as popular as ever in Australia, New Zealand, France and Papa New Guinea, for example; the latter of which claims rugby league as its own national sport. However, in terms of the English Super League, the perception is that the game needs to branch out in order to achieve the kind of global popularity which many feel the competition is deserving of.
Last weekend, history was made as the first ever Super League game played outside of Europe was contested between Wigan Warriors and Hull FC. The game took place in the beachside city of Wollongong, which is only an hour or so drive away from Sydney and is consequently a fertile territory for both the NRL and rugby league in general, if not the English club game. The historic fixture largely went to form, with Wigan running out 24-10 winners over Hull FC and now looking decent value at 4/1 with most Rugby League betting sites to get back to winning ways and once again lift the Super League trophy come the end of the season.The WIN stadium housed a bumper crowd of 12,416, with approximately 5000 fans making the trip from England and other areas of the UK. The fact that around 7,000 NRL fans attended the fixture is extremely encouraging and the Super League must now surely build on this success in order to move the competition and sport in general forward.
The Betfred Super League has indeed been on the road a number of times before and has included visits to both Spain and Scotland, but playing a game on the other side of the world some 10,000 miles away represents the perfect chance for the Super League to spread its wings and market itself as a major contender with regards to the rugby league elite establishment. This growth and inevitable expansion has arguably come at the perfect time for rugby league in general – the code is currently in the process of breaching the North American market with the emergence of the Toronto Wolfpack and other potential new clubs in New York and Boston. As a result, the round two Super League fixture staged at the WIN stadium is a ‘strike whilst the iron is hot’ move which will no doubt be roundly applauded by fans of rugby league.
Despite the fact that it’s ultimately down to personal preference, most hardcore rugby aficionados will tell you that rugby league is the purest form of the game and it’s difficult to disagree with this assessment. The fact that the Super League is doing its utmost to try to market itself outside of Europe shows that the people in charge have their heads screwed on and realise that the future of the competition lies on a more global scale. Whilst the game in Wollongong is certainly a step in the right direction, there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of securing the long-term future of the game and more contests like this hold the key to this progression. Think Wembley Stadium and what those events have done for the popularity of the NFL in England.