Tyke Talk #1 | Irish Rugby League and the International Game

I’d like to start by saying how much I’m looking forward to writing this blog – ‘Tyke talk’ – on the Club’s website this season and hopefully I can share with you some interesting topics of discussion surrounding the world of Rugby League.

At the end of last year, I got the opportunity to represent Ireland in the Rugby League World Cup and it was a privilege to be picked and a truly fantastic experience. We managed to put together a really strong team for the World Cup including the likes of Michael McIlorum, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Brad Singleton. Personally, I believe we probably outplayed some of our expectations particularly from the view of people outside the camp.

We were quietly confident heading into the Italy game and then we travelled over to Papua New Guinea where we felt a little bit unlucky not to come away with a victory in what was an amazing atmosphere.

I think the 2017 Rugby League World Cup was a showcase of what the sport has to offer and what international Rugby League has the potential to be.

But, I do think the clubs are wary about the international game which I find a little bit frustrating and strange really because I only think improving the international game would only help promote the club game further with players on display on a bigger stage.

If you look at Rugby Union they’ve done it really well. They’ve had a real buy-in for a number of years and even look at Italy and the way they’ve slowly built by playing in the Six Nations for over the years. They’re now are a competitive side, nobody is ever going to be world beaters overnight, but regular fixtures will allow teams such as Ireland, France and Italy increase participation and growth for the game.

The Six Nations is a great competition and it’s an idea we have seen banded about in Rugby League circles since the close of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup and I’m a big advocate of getting it going in Rugby League but under the condition England would field their strongest side as that’s the only way it would be successful commercially and buy in from the majority of the game stakeholders.

Particularly buy-in from the top. Obviously, the majority of Rugby League fans are English, and they want to see the best England team playing and I think if you send the England Knights team – no disrespect to them and they probably might win the competition – but I just don’t think that’s what the fans would want to see. I feel if we’d met England in the Rugby League World Cup we’d have given them a real test.

Personally, I think it’s a lot easier to sell, market and promote England vs Ireland than say a club game of two northern towns. I think people would tune in because they’re patriotic and regarless of the sport they want to see their country get one over another rival country and to build all that under a branded banner such as the Six Nations would be fantastic.

Additionally, this helps the smaller nations improve as a Rugby League nation both on and off the field. We loved competing against the best nations in the Rugby League World Cup but it’s just not something we do enough. For example, we might need to play qualifiers for the next World Cup and this time around we played the likes of Spain and Serbia who the Ireland beat comfortably. This just isn’t attractive to the top-level players who we need to buy into playing international Rugby League on a regular basis as often they have to give up there off season to play, so it does need to be more attractive to some players than others.

I think a Six Nations or something similar at the elite level could garner serious buy-in from the professional players but also on a commercial and broadcasting level. Take a look at the NRL for example who’ve implemented the international round into their calendar which has increased buy-in from players not only to play for Australia and New Zealand but also countries such as Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

It starts to breed that kind of respected culture on an international level. I have no doubt that Tonga will go on to one of the most competitive international sides going forward. I believe we miss out on that sort of opportunity because with the likes of Wales, Scotland, France and Ireland because we don’t get exposure to play at a high level regularly enough.

All of this is at the top level and is key to the growth of international Rugby League and Irish Rugby League in general, but I do think an Irish team being introduced into Betfred League One would be a solid start for the domestic game as my Ireland teammate Oliver Roberts suggested on social media.

Although the domestic competition isn’t the strongest in Ireland there is a lot of hidden talent that falls out of rugby union who could make great league players. I’d love to see a professional team there in the next ten years, it would need to have a structure within itself to be sustainable, using existing clubs to filter in to it and running academies for development.  I think a professional team in League One would be the ideal level for a club encouraging the domestic Irish lads to play the game, and you could attract some of the experienced senior team players to come and play.

I know they tried it in Wales with the Crusaders in Super league not long ago, but there were things that went wrong off the field there rather than on it.  I do honestly believe the work that North and South Wales clubs are doing now will only benefit Wales in the future. They might never get into the Betfred Super League but it’s about giving the domestic players the chance and opportunity to play at a higher level.

I’m really passionate about playing for Ireland and it hit home playing in the Rugby League World Cup after I’d missed a few years and promoting Irish Rugby League is definitely something I’d look at getting involved with going forward.

Well, that’s my first ‘Tyke talk’ done!

I hope you’ve all enjoyed the read. As mentioned earlier I’m looking forward to penning my thoughts on all things Rugby League throughout the 2018 season.