Dave Craven: Terrestrial TV for World Cup vital if game is to widen appeal

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IT is not often said but this has truly been a good news week for rugby league.

Admittedly, at first glance, you can see how some might argue otherwise.

Ian Millward certainly will not think it has been all sweetness and light after his dismissal from Castleford Tigers, becoming the second Super League boss to be sacked already this term.

And concerned Hull KR fans will be sweating nervously again after Neil Hudgell’s latest declaration that his money pit is no longer bottomless and the chairman’s funding of his cherished club will not extend into 2014.

There have been previous such warnings but if he and associate Rob Crossland follow through this time it does leave them in a perilous state. Furthermore, though others might contend otherwise, the glut of injuries announced in recent days – Tickle, Elima, Cahill to name just three – surely says plenty about the cost of that strenuous Easter period too. It isn’t just a coincidence is it?

However, forget all that, the BBC is broadcasting all England’s World Cup games AND there is a chance Great Britain could finally be revived. For me, looking at the bigger picture, that is an incredibly positive double blast.

Firstly, let’s look at that Beeb news and a new four-year contract in the bag.

For all Sky have done wonders for rugby league, bringing finance which is ostensibly a life-support machine for many clubs, the only way to truly promote the game to a wider audience is by having the terrestrial broadcasters on board.

There is inevitable talk that the forthcoming World Cup is the sport’s big chance to build-on the unrivalled success of last summer’s Olympics and tap into the nation’s imagination.

For it to do that it had to have the Beeb as an ally. Showing the World Cup on Sky would be like preaching to the converted. If rugby league truly wants to be a national and international game it has to have a vehicle to take it to every outpost in the UK and only the Beeb can offer that.

The crucial aspect for organisers now is to ensure all stadiums involving those England fixtures – against Australia at Cardiff, Ireland in Huddersfield and Fiji at Hull FC – are sold-out.

If rugby league is to be taken seriously, it needs its potential new viewers to see stadiums full to brimming, generating the sort of atmosphere everyone involved in the game knows it can do and not rows of empty seats which has too often been the case in the sport’s recent BBC productions.

There is no reason why that cannot be achieved and ticket sales are, encouragingly, swift.

Clearly, Sky have missed out on the chance to be host broadcaster with Premier Sports winning that race to secure rights to all 28 games in the tournament.

There are doom-mongers who feel that is a backward step given their relative novice status in rugby league broadcasting.

But, given they show every game in the NRL and, last night’s issues at Doncaster aside, provide excellent coverage of the Championship, they are a growing entity which will only get bigger.

On to Great Britain and the prospect of the Ashes being back in just two years time.

Many people thought the famous jersey had been retired for good after head coach Tony Smith took charge in a victorious series against New Zealand in 2007.

But, as part of the BBC deal, there will be England coverage at Four Nations Series’ in 2014 and 2016, plus the 2017 World Cup.

Of course, that leaves a window of opportunity in 2015 and RFL chief executive Nigel Wood says reviving the Ashes series is definitely on the agenda at the International Federation meeting in Canberra next week.

Nothing is guaranteed and it still may not materialise but there is more optimism than ever before the old rivalry with Australia could return.

Great Britain may not be any different to England when it comes to actual personnel but in spirit, having the traditional Lions back is so, so much more.