Dave Craven: Self-serving NRL put the game’s global expansion on hold

Australia may be world champions but their domestic league is stifling the game's growth. (Picture: NRL Photos /Gregg Porteous)
Australia may be world champions but their domestic league is stifling the game's growth. (Picture: NRL Photos /Gregg Porteous)
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IT SEEMS absurd that we are even having the debate.

But, then again, it seems absurd that the Australian cricket Test team would risk ruin over a piece of sandpaper. Or sticky tape. Whatever the latest version.

England's Wayne Bennett and his NRL-based players are right behind Kiwi Test

England's Wayne Bennett and his NRL-based players are right behind Kiwi Test

As daft and ill-conceived as that decision was, it’s not just the cricketers who are doing their utmost to self-implode.

The NRL, in its infinite wisdom, are essentially looking to destroy rugby league, too, if they continue with their stance of not backing the June Test in Denver between England and New Zealand. From any outsider looking in, you’d think they’d have no reason to even attempt to scupper it.

It is on an international weekend. The Rugby League International Federation want to play it. England want to play it. New Zealand want to play it. The players want to play it. Denver wants to host them playing it. The list goes on...

There is, though, some nonsensical garbage being thrown around by the NRL. As it stands they are refusing to back the Test, one of the reasons being they are worried about their players’ welfare given it will be played at high altitude.

It is a frustratingly myopic approach from the NRL, however, when surely they must realise they have an unwritten duty to promote the sport at all levels.

Dave Craven

They seem to have overlooked the fact the game is scheduled for the Mile High Stadium, home of NFL side Denver Broncos who, obviously, being their home, play there quite regularly. And without routinely collapsing due to a lack of oxygen.

Clearly, as has so often been the case, the NRL is only really bothered about protecting itself, its own product, and ensuring its clubs’ players are fit and well to operate in their own competition.

The club game – in both hemispheres – has always ruled the roost over the international one but Super League, at least, has the collective approach to understand Test match football is crucial in advancing the sport.

It is a frustratingly myopic approach from the NRL, however, when surely they must realise they have an unwritten duty to promote the sport at all levels.

Rugby league needs to expand. Its inability to do so has been an inherent problem throughout its history. Granted, the sport is being played, at some level, in more countries than ever before but the chance to break into the North American market is not one that can be casually cast aside.

The 2025 World Cup will be held jointly by USA and Canada and this proposed Test match will be a crucial first step towards making those strides into that new area which holds vast potential for rugby league’s growth.

The prospect of the NRL holding back their players from actually featuring over there beggars belief and is one of the most short-sighted standpoints you are ever likely to witness, especially from a sporting organisation of such size and power.

The day after the RFL released a statement this week, reiterating their belief in the Test and signed by coach Wayne Bennett plus all their NRL-based players, the NRL released details about their 
own ‘strategic pathway for expansion’.

The problem was it only involved expansion for its own competition. Not the international game.

It seemed so ironic they would reveal this plan while the other bigger argument still rumbles on.

It smacks of hypocrisy. Maybe it was always planned that way. Smugness? Who knows?

Either way, the NRL’s stance remains embarrassing and deeply worrying for rugby league.

That’s rugby league the world over.

Not just in their own back 
yard.