By Brian Lowe, Date: 6/4/18
Unless something unexpected comes in from left field, the much talked about Rugby League International Challenge match looks set to go ahead as planned in Denver this northern hemisphere summer.
The game featuring #2 England and #3 New Zealand is scheduled to be played at Mile High stadium on Saturday, June 23 with each team being paid a half million dollars by the promoters.
The national governing bodies from both countries have rubber stamped the contest, as has the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), although as most if not all the players involved will come from the NRL in Australia, clubs in that competition are said to be a tad hesitant in releasing their players for the game.
It should be pointed out, however, that neither the clubs nor the NRL itself have made any official statements one way or the other.
According to reports from sections of the Sydney media, the NRL and the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) have sent a letter to the two NGB advising of their concerns about player welfare due to the long-haul trip.
Central to their concerns is the fact that the players will have only a short turnaround on the long roundtrip flight with some, because of the international time difference, having just a day to get ready for their club’s next NRL fixture the following Thursday.
Medical professionals with the England and New Zealand leagues have debunked that by suggesting the long flights and playing at altitude in Denver in summer won’t have any adverse effects on the players. But of course, you could expect them to say that.
The NRL and RLPA are due to convene a meeting Tuesday in Sydney at which they will hear from the NGB as to why the game should go ahead.
And here’s the rub – officially the NRL has no say on whether the game goes ahead because as mentioned above it is a national governing body, but it does oversee the welfare of players in its competition so therefore its opinions and concerns are valid.
Ever since the game was first announced during last year’s Rugby League World Cup there has been an unrelenting wave of criticism of the NRL for not giving its unconditional support right from the get go. Most of the whining has come from rugby league media in the UK who claim the NRL has a responsibility to promote the growth of the game internationally.
I disagree. As I wrote in a previous opinion piece, I believe the NRL is responsible for growing the game domestically in Australia only, not the rest of the world, that’s the RLIF’s job.
Given that and the fact the NRL hasn’t officially panned the Denver game, the UK media’s criticism is nothing more than fake news, or click bait.
But in an effort to determine if I’m on the right track, I sought the opinion of a former radio talk show colleague Ben Davis, who I worked with at 4BC in Brisbane, and he agrees.
“The RLIF needs to be at the forefront of international promotion. Surely that’s their mission statement,” he said.
Davis says the NRL plays its part by providing a strong product to sell.
“That way it becomes more attractive to sponsors and potential broadcasters. Then the RLIF can start the discussions with them to start bringing the game to the US.
“Be it exhibition matches, maybe even a competition game. Although the travel factor would be an issue with the week in week out competition.”
Based on that, he suggests that maybe the World Club Championship could be played in the US.
“The best of Super League and the best of the NRL in that part of the world.
“Both Australia and the UK have an issue about flying all the way to the other side of the planet. While it’s not exactly halfway, the West Coast or Hawaii could be a good venue.”
That’s a pretty good idea and we’ll see how it pans out.
Getting back to the Denver game, at this point in time, it looks good to go.
You can catch Ben Davis hosting the Drive Show every weekday at www.4bc.com.au