A Turning Point For International Rugby League
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Rugby Union this weekend starts its series of Autumn internationals in the Northern Hemisphere. The top teams in the Southern Hemisphere play the top teams in the Northern Hemisphere over the coming weekends. However, to those that don’t know, this weekend is the penultimate weekend of the Rugby League 4 Nations Down Under and it’s been a great tournament so far.

The 4 Nations is held every other year alternating between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. The 3 major Rugby League playing Nations in the world, Australia, New Zealand and England are joined by the best European team, if hosted in the Northern Hemisphere (in 2017 this will be Scotland who won the European Qualifiers last weekend) and the best Pacific Island team, if hosted in the Southern hemisphere (this year Samoa).

This weekend Australia should beat Samoa, who have run both England and New Zealand very close, but it is not going to be an easy game for the Aussies and that is a great testament to this Samoan side who can very much hold their heads high after the performances they have put in.

The greatest interest will be in the England vs New Zealand game on Saturday. An England victory by 10 points or more will secure their place in the final and will leave New Zealand, who beat Australia in the first match, looking to the game on Sunday (Australia v Samoa) to give them the result they need to qualify. If results go their way Samoa could make a mockery of the International Rugby Federation this weekend by making the final and then being replaced by Scotland next time around.

This has so far been one of the closest 4 Nations tournaments there has been and after the World Cup Final of last year it was very much needed. Australia’s dominance of the world scene is being severely tested and by both New Zealand and England and what a shot in the arm that is!

Since Sam Burgess went over to South Sydney 4 years ago there has been something of an exodus not only of the Burgess family (all 4 bothers at South Sydney last year) but of a number of young English players to the NRL where they have been making something of a name for themselves. For English Rugby League this can only be a good thing. The Aussies have always said the Super League is a lesser competition to the NRL but with players going over to play and dominate in the NRL we can at least say that at the top level our players can match them. Therein lies another bonus, the fear of the almighty Australian Rugby League player may just start to die with more English players in the NRL, after all the Kiwis don’t seem to have that issue since the inception of the New Zealand Warriors and a number of top Kiwi players playing throughout Australia.

And this is where the potential turning point is.

With these English players in the NRL performing well and if (and it’s still a big if at the moment) England can make the final then International Rugby League once more can become more than the ANZAC challenge. The RLIF (International Federation) has to grasp this possibility no matter what happens to the results this weekend.

20 years ago Rugby Union had a small number of nations that could challenge the top nations and it has hardly grown although those nations have changed. Importantly there is a much larger second tier of nations who can all beat each other and so they can have meaningful test series like the autumn internationals. During those 20 years Rugby League has almost retracted to the 3 best in the world and at different times England or New Zealand have been way off the pace.

This weekend is huge for International Rugby League but it isn’t about 1 weekend alone. The European Qualifiers were close, in this 4 Nations Samoa have held their own and the top 3 nations have had close matches (pending the England v New Zealand match).

International Rugby League is growing and it is up to the RLIF board to keep that up at a pace. If they can then players like Sam Burgess may just stay in the game instead of leaving for the international challenge that Rugby Union has, and then where could Rugby League go?


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