Dave Craven on rugby league: Wood has global ambitions for an international calendar

Nigel Wood.
Nigel Wood.
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I CANNOT believe that Steve McNamara has ‘grassed’ me up.

Apparently, it was the England coach who, while in a car with Nigel Wood in Sydney last week, informed the new Rugby League International Federation chairman about my mention of him and Brighouse Rangers juniors last week.

For those who didn’t read it I won’t go into details but let’s say I had possibly been fearing a word from the big chief. Anyway, as I kept insisting yesterday when Wood allowed me into Red Hall to be involved in his briefing to journalists about what he hopes to achieve from his new global role, it was all in good jest...

He is clearly ready to embrace his new appointment and spoke with an obvious passion and excitement about the challenges and potential that lies ahead in his two-year office.

Wood insisted the sport has not lost the impetus garnered from the World Cup but accepted there is a need to start moving things forward. He spoke of wanting to establish a clear and visible international calender.

There seems likely to be some European Nations competition this year which could play a part in qualification for the next World Cup in 2017 thought that has to be rubber-stamped.

He believes the Australians who, notoriously at times, have given international competition short shrift, will be more supportive during his tenure given he has NRL chief Dave Smith as his deputy and is backed by ARL chief executive John Grant.

Furthermore, the players themselves have been energised for more international football following the success of that last World Cup.

“Those six weeks last October and November instilled belief in people – it’s up to the RLIF as an organisation to harness that,” said Wood.

Automatic qualification for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup might be limited to only eight nations as opposed to a dozen last year.

There is still no confirmation yet that an Ashes Lions tour with Great Britain will take place next year but discussions are ongoing and Wood said it is a “prize worth waiting for”.

There is likely to be no NRL club involvement given sides will have downed tools for the winter by the time the tour takes place but it is hoped some midweek games against representative sides will be incorporated in a six-week trip.

If it does not materialise he insisted there will be some international rugby league from the home nations in 2015 regardless and there is little concern about overlapping with the Rugby Union World Cup.

There is some talk about a Rugby League Nines World Cup which could be explored to take place in the mid-point between the standard World Cup competitions.

Also, there could be greater funding secured for emerging nations if the RLIF can drive up the number of countries playing rugby league, one of Wood’s main aims.

It needs to get to 4o. Currently, there are 44 participating but not all are operating a domestic league which is the crucial factor when it comes to being recognised by Sport Accord for extra funding.

Clearly, that is not of massive interest to dominant countries such as Australia, New Zealand and England but it could open up better opportunities for the likes of Serbia and Ukraine if they can reach that figure.