Dave Craven: Rugby league is chasing the American dream in Denver

England players celebrate a try by Kallum Watkins at the World Cup. Picture: Brendon Ratnayake/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ
England players celebrate a try by Kallum Watkins at the World Cup. Picture: Brendon Ratnayake/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ
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IT TOOK some sorting, plenty of bickering, even more politicking but, thankfully, we learned this week England will play New Zealand in the big ol’ U-S of A.

On the face of it, people may wonder why so many have been so keen to see the idea come to fruition.

Some will argue it’s just another rugby league gimmick that will be forgotten barely before the game is even finished.

In fairness, you can see their point as there have been previous sporadic dabblings in the American market.

One of my earliest rugby memories was of the rather bizarre sight of Wigan and Warrington facing off in Milwaukee, deep in the US midwest.

Obviously, I wasn’t there, just watching from afar as the likes of Ellery Hanley and Mike Gregory donned different kits, went all glitzy, but still saw their sides get down to a proper old ding-dong.

John Holdsworth, the experienced referee who was always strangely listed as being from the Kippax (a village verging between Leeds and Castleford so maybe it meant he could officiate both clubs) was in charge.

He spent a lot of the time in the middle of a few flare-ups as the old rivalries were renewed from Wigan Pier across ‘The Pond’. Perhaps that was to get in tune with any local ice hockey fans who arrive always expecting a dust-up.

Nevertheless, there is real purpose and, most importantly, an endgame to this latest venture when England face the Kiwis in Denver, Colorado on June 23.

Clearly, there is one eye on the fact the World Cup will go Stateside for the first time in 2025 and it is vital the American public – and broadcast executives – start becoming engaged with what is heading their way.

This is one reason why England will play three games in the States over the next three years.

But, of course, with Super League’s Sky contract expiring in 2021, there is an urgent need to start exploring potential new markets and earn a deal far superior to the current one.

Let’s be frank, the sport and the vast majority of clubs within it, relies on its broadcast deal and, therefore, it is imperative it gives itself the best possible chance of securing the biggest potential price tag.

Traditionally, television rights in the USA – along with sponsorship, advertising and everything that comes with it – are off the scale compared to domestic figures here so it is common sense to go send some feelers out that way.

Much like Wigan and Hull FC recently embraced the challenge of taking Super League 10,000 miles to a rugby league heartland like New South Wales, the game has to be forward-thinking.

With Toronto joining Catalans Dragons in bringing an international feel to the sport, the scope in the US is limitless.

Obviously, there is talk about New York, Boston and Hamilton all showing interest in Super League while, as daft as it sounds, some Australians would say Perth have a better chance of trying their luck here, too, than in the NRL.

It is one thing being interested, though, and another being utterly sold. What is certain is that rugby league here is not big enough to let them come and merely dip a toe into the water. It must work harder than ever before to command that attention and ensure it sticks.

Starting in a sports-mad US city like Denver is a perfect launch point.