Dramatic victory over Wales Dragonhearts, 38-34, in Cardiff last Saturday marked a highly satisfactory 2017 for rugby league in Germany.
“This year has has seen consolidation and some steps forwards,” said joint national coach Bob Doughton.
One of the major successes has been the introduction of the regionally-based domestic BundesLeague, featuring four teams; Northern Devils, Grüne Jäger, Ruhrpott Rhinos and champions Ostwestfalen. “The tournament not only gave the players greater match practice but enabled the national coaching staff to make adjustments and develop them as the tournament unfurled,” Doughton added.
“It produced a lot of new, local players with some going on to make their international debuts like prop Renko Flemming (Northern Devils) and wing Presley Chirombe (Grüner Jäger). Two young talents for the future to watch out for are 16 year-olds Liam Bons (Northern Devils) and Dennis Tumme (Ruhrpott Rhinos).”
In the first international of the season, a narrow defeat to Holland in Osnabruck, the German side consisted solely of those playing in the domestic league and afterwards, both nations’ boards agreed to discuss how to increase cross-border participation levels.
“The victory in Wales was something special,” Doughton confirmed. “It was the first time that the national team had been in a country where rugby is the national sport and people in the street knew what rugby league is.
“It was doubly significant as Wales is our mentor country and there is a great rapport between the management and staff of both organisations. The WRL have helped with advice on administrative matters and they are a great support in the development of our organisation.”
Doughton noted: “All along it has been the intention of the national coaches to expose the better domestic players to the highest grade of opposition. That can only be done with the inclusion of the heritage players such as long-serving stalwart Andy Hoggins from Oxford and last year Ben White of Swinton and Ben Dent of York.
“This year also saw the inclusion of Dan Pearson from Sherwood Wolf Hunt and the return of Super League Grand Final winner Jimmy Keinhorst from Leeds Rhinos after a five-year absence. An influential inclusion this time has been half-back Brad Billsborough from St.Helens, currently playing for their Academy and the Reserve sides.
“He has a gift for organisation and communication – at only 19 he has a maturity beyond his years. All of these players helped the domestic guys rise to a level of performance which would have been otherwise unattainable.”
NRLD has also developed an active youth programme. There is a weekly session at an omni-sports club in Hattingen and various school activities ranging from regular weekly gatherings to six-week courses. In all, some 100 children have received bespoke rugby league activity this year.
According to Doughton: “The most exciting development, though, is the formation of the new club in Dortmund, Ruhrpott Rhinos, which is the first purely rugby league club in Germany. Dortmund is the twin city of Leeds and the Ruhrpott Rhinos will become a partner club of Leeds Rhinos.
“Discussions have already taken place with members of Dortmund City Council about using the link to revive the Twin City programme, which is currently inactive. We have coached at various schools and events in the city, including at summer camps. We have a lot of work to do but we are convinced that there is a lot of potential to develop the sport in the area. It won’t be quick but the potential is very exciting.”
Importantly to maintain the progress, a German TV channel, Pro Sieben MAXX, has just announced that it will show the complete 2017 Rugby League World Cup free-to-air in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.