Dave Craven: Wood tasked with driving league forward on a global scale

The RFL's Nigel Wood.
The RFL's Nigel Wood.
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Some people reckon he is not fit to take charge of his son’s Brighouse Rangers junior side, let alone the RFL or Super League (Europe).

So you can imagine the reaction from some quarters when it was confirmed yesterday that Nigel Wood had indeed been put in command of the sport’s world governing body too.

Yes, the ex-Halifax chief executive has risen to the rank of Rugby League International Federation chairman, a title he will hold while retaining his full-time role as the chief executive of those two aforementioned organisations.

Now, whatever critics say about his leadership here – and, as with all positions of power, there is plenty of scrutiny – from my own dealings with Wood I know he is a huge believer in the international game and its importance for the sport’s greater good.

That, then, can only be a good thing as it is more than can be said for many powerbrokers in Australia.

Let’s face it, there can be a fairly insular approach from the NRL with plenty Down Under more fascinated with that and State of Origin than having any real 
appetite for international football.

The Kangaroos may be world champions again but they have had a tendency to get to that point with a minimum involvement with other nations; the international calendar is not a priority.

Wood, who is promoted from vice-chairman to succeed New Zealander Scott Carter, is the first Englishman to hold the post since Maurice Lindsay in 1998 and it is no coincidence he has won the role just six months after helping deliver the most successful World Cup in history.

A profit nearing £4m was secured for the RLIF and it is the new incumbent’s job now to ensure that wealth is spent judicially in bettering the sport at the elite international level.

It is no surprise he had decided some of that cash will go into establishing a first-ever full-time office solely aimed at strengthening the international game, a basic provision in many eyes but one that has been unashamedly overlooked in previous regimes.

If rugby league is to enhance itself on a global basis – and, in turn, invigorate the domestic game as the two come in unison – then there has to be such a permanently accessible resource available.

It is a pity, though, that Sally Bolton – the 2013 Rugby League World Cup general manager – has been lost to the sport as she confirmed yesterday that she is leaving the RFL to take up a leading role in the organisation of the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London.

She proved a shrewd operator during last autumn’s excellent competition and fostered plenty of important links and relationships while forcing international rugby league onto the agenda.

Bolton would surely have been an ideal employee in any new RLIF office but it is no shock she has been targeted by other leading sporting organisations.

Wood, meanwhile, fully realises the “primacy” of international competition and the need to create more opportunities for RL players to represent their country on the biggest stage, especially in light of England’s own Sam Burgess heading to union, in part, for such reasons.

Wood – who has Australian Rugby League Commission chief executive Dave Smith as his vice-chairman – might now also be able to drive home a deal to bring back a Great Britain Lions tour but that is just one of many tasks populating his in-tray.