Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Game's Origin - Part 3

The tour of by a New Zealand team of Britain in 1908 had caught the imagination in Australasia. The game was established in New Zealand but many in the country wanted Rugby Union to be the oval ball code so rugby league has always had an uphill battle to be accepted. It is strong in some places such as Auckland but otherwise variable in popularity.

Australia had a different situation. There was strong negativity that the Rugby Union was gaining financially but that wasn't trickling down to the players. Compensation for injured players unable to work was sought but not forthcoming. Due to this, clubs broke away from rugby union and the new code was introduced to Sydney and Newcastle, Australia. In Queensland, Australia a club competition was formed in 1909, albeit on a limited scale initially.

The game arrived in France in 1934 and immediately had success. The English Rugby Union alleged professionalism in the French game and France was at the time excluded from the European championship. By 1939, there were over 200 rugby league clubs and France defeated England and Wales to be crowned champions of Europe.

Unfortunately, when the Nazi invasion took place, the cordial relations between England and France in rugby league was painted by the rugby union code in a negative light to the Vichy government. That led to the game being liquidated along with all assets. Rugby league started to rebuild itself after the war but never again hit those pre-war heights of popularity. Rugby league in France has never been compensated in any way for its losses. (For the book The Forbidden Game, try this link).

A world cup competition started in 1954 and four nations played those tournaments. The problem was the game had no international federation that could spread the word. It relied on the code being randomly picked up by local people and running with it. The professional competitions in England and Australia looked after themselves so little changed for decades.

Rugby Union was a thorn in the side of expansion also. In the 1950's, the game was growing in South Africa, but Rugby Union used its influence with all sorts of dirty tricks to stifle it, which unfortunately worked. I know in New Zealand, any promising young rugby league players were pressured to play for the school union team. Most yielded and often remained in that code. Boys who insisted on playing league for a local club were given a hard time.

Still, rugby league's lack of a FIFA type organisation was the main reason for the lack of expansion. Certainly the product was good enough. Was the game to languish as a small sport played in four countries? No, as the next in the series will reveal.

Part 4 can be read by clicking here.
For Part 1: Click here.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The UK SL - Good Stuff


Rugby league in the UK has a fight on its hands. The code at the top level is a regional game and in addition to that the country is obsessed with association football. The media is therefore not exactly falling over itself to cover the game. SkyTV only televises two games each week and money received from that crucial source is modest.

Still. British RL doesn't sit on its hands. It moved the code to summer to avoid head to head competition with football. The game itself comes across well on television with action aplenty and little down time. The skills the players exhibit are of a high standard. Playoffs and promotion/relegation also ensures most games have plenty riding on the outcome. The salary cap keeps the gap across UK SL narrow so increasingly no team is dominating as happens infootball.

So is there any improvements that could be made? Here's a few suggestions:

Not having two fixtures over a long weekend. Twice a year players have to back up on a weekend. The game is hard on the body and recovery time is so important. Sure, TV may want it otherwise but player welfare must come into it.

Have a Nines tournament. They do it in the NRL and it should be done in the UK. I'd have it in the middle of summer and create a carnival atmosphere. Play the tournaments outside the game's heartland and include championship (division 2) sides. Perhaps top players could be rested too as their impact in this format is less than the 80 minute version.

Change the points for the Top 8. I like the system where the teams divide into three divisions of eight each. The only issue is with the Top 8, where points are carried over and teams at the bottom of that group have no chance in seven games to make the finals. Either go back to zero points, or what I would prefer, double points for those last seven games. That way there is some hope for the sides just scraping into the Top 8.

So these suggestions aren't huge but there is always ways to improve things. I like the European SL much better than the NRL in Australasia. The play is more open and adventurous plus the relegation aspect keeps it interesting for all the teams and fans.

Picture source: The RFL.

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Game's Origin - Part 2

In part one (read by clicking here), rugby league had commenced in the north of England in 1895 but gone no further. A rugby union player in Wellington, NZ was a postal clerk by the name of Albert Baskerville. He read how the successful All Blacks tour in 1905 had benefited from the best rugby players in England playing another code. He decided to organise a tour of New Zealand players to the UK to compete against these players.

Albert Baskerville
He left his job to do this and was given a life ban from the NZ Rugby Union for his decision to tour. They left in 1907 and returned in 1908. On the way over, they played three matches in Australia and took along a local named Herbert 'Dally' Messenger with their party. The tour was a success on the field as well as off, with a profit of about £300 for each player. That was quite a sum back then, although the tough opponents and weather ensured they earned every penny.

Unfortunately Albert Baskerville contracted pneumonia on the way home during the final leg of the tour in Australia and died in Brisbane at just 25 years of age. While the team finished their tour, some returned his body home to Wellington where he was laid to rest at Karori Cemetery.

His legacy was starting rugby league's international connection. The tour brought about the formation of the game in both New Zealand and Australia. Without the efforts of a postal clerk in New Zealand, it's doubtful that the game would would have come down under.

How did the code grow from these small beginnings? Part 3 will follow with that theme....

Part 3 can be read by clicking here.
For Part 1: Click here.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Australian NRL - A Rabbit Caught In Headlights

There is a need to keep alert & proactive
Professional Australian rugby league a few decades ago was adventurous. Pushed by a breakaway movement in the late 1990's, teams were added and well received. Now TV rights have given the code money and players wages are better. However, the desire to move forward isn't there anymore from what I can see.

Perhaps there is a mood of 'if it isn't broken, then don't fix it'. I prefer the idea that 'if you're not going forwards, then you are going backwards'. If the latter is true, then the NRL is not doing enough. So what should it be doing? Here's a few ideas.

Expansion. Remember when the game went from a Sydney only competition to an international one? It breathed life into the competition. I love the game but increasingly follow the professional alternative in Europe. It's so much more interesting. A team in Perth is long overdue, another one in Brisbane, likewise NZ. A side could be a club like Manly joining up with the Central Coast north of Sydney, sharing games. A fourth team could be a Pacific Island one, based in Brisbane perhaps and playing home games in PNG, Fiji and other islands.

A Cup. This could have all pro teams plus top sides from NSW, Queensland and NZ competitions. Have say 32 sides, knock out style covering five weeks spread over a period in the season. Something to add a variety, something the NRL is massively short of.

More than one Nines tournament a year. Make it three a year and not all top players need to play. It would give rep players a break and young talent a chance to shine.

These are a few ideas that could break up what I feel is an increasingly stale presentation that we currently have. The staus quo is safe and currently earns money, but unless any code continues to innovate and try things, other attractions will slowly erode the interest that is there. The lack of change reminds me of a rabbit caught in the headlights, going nowhere fast.

Picture source: NRL.com

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Game's Origin - Part 1

Tough, popular and cold (see linesman)

Sport back in the 19th century wasn't professional like it is today. It was about well being and character building. Schools played various types of Football but it was given a set of rules around 1869 to bring all schools together under one sport. Football (Soccer) was created and is the basis of all Football codes.

Like so many human endeavours, it didn't suit everyone. Those who wanted the leaders of the British Empire to be tough felt the game needed to be more physical and Rugby Union was formed. That became a code for middle and upper classes and by refusing to allow working class people compensation for time off work (broken time) kept the game for them. Working class people then had to play Football.

In the north of England, coal miners and factory workers wanted to play the rougher Football so twenty two clubs met in the town of Huddersfield to decide what to do. Unanimously they agreed to break away and form their own game, called Northern Rugby. It quickly changed some rules to make it more spectator friendly and it was a huge success.

No effort was made to spread the new game, the teams in the north of England were simply happy to play their game and compensate players for wages lost due to time off work. That is how the game could have stayed but elsewhere someone heard of this game and...well that will be a subject for another article.

Part 2 can be read by clicking here.

Picture source: normanwalshuk.com.

Monday, 15 May 2017

2017 World Rankings

The ranking system is let down by the fact that although efforts are being made to encourage international RL, there ares till too few matches to fairly rank nations. So I'll give my ratings of nations including heritage players, with the current official ranking after:

Tier 1:

Australia 1, New Zealand 2, England 3.

Tier 2:

Scotland 4, Samoa 5, France 6, Ireland 7, Fiji 8, Wales 9, USA 10, Tonga 11, Canada 13, Italy 14, PNG 15, Cook Is 24.

Tier 3:

Serbia 12, Russia 16, Jamaica 17, Belgium 18, Malta 19, Spain 20, Lebanon 21, Ukraine 22, Germany 23, Czech Rep 25, Norway 26, Denmark 27, Greece 28, Sweden 29, Netherlands 30, Niue 31, South Africa 32, Hungary 33, Phillipines 34, Thailand 35.

Tier 4:

Chile 36, Vanuatu 37, El Salvador 38, Latvia 39, Solomon Is 40, Uruguay 41, Morocco 42.

Some of the calls here are marginal. Should Lebanon and Jamaica be Tier 2? If heritage players are excluded, then the quality of some of the teams changes drastically. Heritage players (usually Australian) all show up for World Cups, but not for friendly internationals.

I would especially like to see more Nines RL played internationally but also more games with the full thirteen players. It would promote the game in countries where the code flies beneath the radar and more people will get involved. Of course it all costs money and that is something the international federation doesn't have a lot of.

First Up

Welcome to my new blog. I did do one called all about sport but decided to focus a bit more on my preferred code. Unfortunately it is seasonal and some times of the year it will be quiet but that comes with the way things are, both hemispheres play concurrently. So welcome along and the articles will follow soon.

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