Growth of international game paramount in Wood’s vision

Nigel Wood.
Nigel Wood.
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Rugby league’s international calendar for 2015 should finally be firmed up in the next week or so with the visit here of a touring Test side from the Southern Hemisphere appearing to be the most likely option.

While there had been hope of the Lions reforming and Great Britain heading Down Under for the first Ashes tour since 1992, that prospect does not look like materialising just yet.

It is, though, not something which will overly frustrate the RFL given they also accept the need to bring international football back to these shores for the first time since staging last year’s hugely successful World Cup.

Given England venture to Australia and New Zealand for the Four Nations this autumn, a Lions tour in 2015 would have meant a gap of three years between last November’s World Cup final, which attracted a record-breaking sell-out attendance of almost 75,000, and the 2016 Four Nations being played here.

“There have always been a number of options for the international calendar in 2015 all of which are genuinely exciting and, no doubt, once plans are announced in the near future, fans and players alike will be thrilled by the prospect,” Nigel Wood, the Rugby League International Federation chairman told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview.

“The World Cup demonstrated there’s a terrific appetite for rugby league in this country and, after visiting Australia and New Zealand this autumn, it’s right and proper that England get chance to play meaningful fixtures in this country next year.

“Not to do so would leave the England side absent from playing in this country for too long, nearly 36 months in fact.

“Our international players and the national side deserve a better platform and profile than that.

“On a personal level, I’m a firm believer and always have been that we need to find a place for a Lions tour in the international calendar but it has to work for all parties.

“Talks about a Lions tour actually pre-dated the World Cup last year.

“The success of that World Cup in the UK was so outstanding that there would be significant disappointment if the national team did not get to play in this country again before 2016 so we’re looking at all options and will be making an announcement in the very near future.”

Wood, the long-serving RFL chief executive who also took on the RLIF role in May, says there is a clear desire to see Steve McNamara’s England side playing at the likes of Wembley once more.

They missed out on the Old Trafford showpiece due to an agonising last minute semi-final loss to New Zealand in London but such epic encounters can obviously drive the international game forward.

Australia, who won the World Cup with a ruthless destruction of holders New Zealand, have not said yet what their itinerary will be in the 12 months ahead.

Once in every four-year cycle, though, they do tend to give their Test side an off-season break and 2015 is seen as the obvious window for such a respite.

Meanwhile, three months into the role he secured after New Zealander Scott Carter quit for business reasons, Wood is embracing the challenges facing the international game.

“The RLIF is moving on at a great pace with a number of very important initiatives developing, similar to Rugby League’s debut as an exhibition sport in the recent Glasgow Commonwealth Games,” he said.

“The recruitment of a dedicated executive is also in its final stages.

“There is great potential, as yet untapped, for international rugby league to grow and I’m absolutely sure that vision is shared by all rugby league playing nations.

“I was invited last week to address the Rugby League European Federation where there was more than 20 nations involved and a wonderful example of how international rugby league can galvanise new areas for the sport.”

McNamara, meanwhile, is just weeks away from the point where he will have to name his squad for the imminent Four Nations.

The tournament starts with a game against Samoa in Brisbane on October 25 before clashes with Australia and the Kiwis.

Victory there, a first major international success since the 1972 World Cup, would, of course, be the biggest bargaining tool of all.