By John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 15/11/13
The Rugby League World Cup in the UK has so far been a resounding success, played in front of good crowds and pulling in solid television ratings.
There was some trepidation about the tournament before it started. Would the seeding group system work? Were the host venues the right call? Would there be a lot of mismatches and would people be interested?
Overall, as the quarter-finals almost get underway, the World Cup has been an outstanding event.
It all started at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium with the double-header of Australia against England and Wales against Italy. The two matches attracted the biggest rugby league crowd ever in Wales, with 45,052 people in attendance. It was a gamble but it paid off. Both games were highly entertaining and see-sawing, and the TV audience for the England clash peaked at 2.4 million viewers on BBC1, with Wales vs Italy peaking at 1 million on BBC2.
Hull was treated to Papua New Guinea and France, with a crowd of 7,541, while 14,965 were treated to a corker of match at Warrington to see Samoa tackle the defending champion Kiwis.
Crowds across the World Cup have been promising. In France 17,518 turned up for France against New Zealand, creating a fantastic atmosphere, while the decision to stage games in Bristol and Workington was a winner. Memorial Stadium saw 7,242 turn up for the USA upset of the Cook Islands, while Derwent Park got two unbelievable games – Tonga vs Scotland and Italy vs Scotland – and two impressive attendances of 7,630 and 7,260. Surely now the case for a Super League team based in Cumbria must grow.
There have been too many memorable moments at this World Cup to count. The undefeated run of Scotland, the upsets caused by the USA, the brilliance and the try-scoring blunder against Samoa of Sonny Bill Williams, the off-field problems beset by England and the individual talents of players such as Joseph Paulo, Christoper Taripo, Matty Russell, Fui Fui Moi Moi and Ray Nasso plus much much more, just take your pick.
This tournament has been blessed with romanticism and several telling stories, from the unpaid Tomahawks soaring to heights to the history-making Italians.
There has also been some disappointments. Wales have been ordinary, while the Kumuls failed to make the kind of impact many expected them to. Only 6,041 turned up at Salford to watch Scotland against the USA, while Ireland’s only game staged in Ireland attracted just 5,021 souls. But this was still the biggest crowd a rugby league match has ever got in the Emerald Isle.
Premier Sports, a niche pay TV channel in the UK, has had all the TV rights to all of the World Cup games. They have done a good job but they lack the wide reach and subscriber base of Super League broadcaster Sky, and they have also not revealed their ratings.
The BBC have been showing England’s matches and they have the rights to a quarter-final, a semi-final and the final. The ratings for the BBC’s coverage has been heartening – a peak audience of 2.2 million watched England vs Fiji on BBC1, while at the same time England’s rugby union international against Argentina has a peak of just 571,000 on Sky.
The positives at this World Cup have clearly outweighed the negatives. Big crowds are expected for the semis and final, with 70,000 tipped for Wembley and Old Trafford potentially a sellout respectively, and the media coverage of the tournament has been interesting widespread. The volunteers in the stadiums have been friendly and courteous, the perfect ambassadors for the greatest game of all.
Predictable games have been few and far apart, away from some of Australia and New Zealand’s group oppositions. The amount of unpredictable scorelines and engaging contests has been awesome, with the minnows rising to the occasion, and few picking the USA to reach a quarter-final and Wales to miss out, Italy to go so close to the next stage or Scotland not registering a loss. Surely there are more shocks to come.
At the halfway point the World Cup organisers should be content with the job they have done but it is not over yet. More work needs to come after the tournament to ensure a legacy is built.
Proper international competition needs to become a regular event and the Rugby League International Federation needs funds and support to grow the game around the world. The World Cup is anticipated to make a profit, surely a sign that things have gone well. Now we need to make sure the ground we have gained is not lost and the next World Cup in four years time is even bigger and better.