Rugby League World Cup: Remarkable arrogance and contempt shown by Australia and New Zealand – Dave Craven

In an alternative universe, where Super League is the greatest rugby league competition in the world, you wonder whether its powerbrokers would be as insular and myopic as the NRL is currently proving so.

The Rugby League World Cup Trophy. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

If Super League ruled the roost and was the all powerful entity, would it look to prevent its players from representing their countries at every turn?

You can intuitively say ‘no’. It wouldn’t. Even in the present universe. Which is quite strange in itself as, for the past few decades, we’ve not actually been very good at international rugby league.

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No side from these shores has even won the World Cup since 1972. You would, then, be thinking the English side would be whooping with delight at the news that Australia and New Zealand have withdrawn from this year’s event: it gives us a realistic chance of actually winning it.

However, in this instance, one of the most oft-used phrases actually rings perfectly true: it is not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.

Admittedly, in the world of professional sport, it is almost sacrilege to utter these words but, when it comes to World Cups, surely it is participation that is key.

The chance to showcase the sport globally should not be forgotten. Yet the Australian Rugby League Commission - the governing body that controls the NRL (or is that the other way around?) - and New Zealand Rugby League showed remarkable arrogance and utter contempt with Thursday’s decision to withdraw from the World Cup, giving organisers just four minutes notice before going public.

One of the ARLC’s remits is to “foster” the game of rugby league throughout the world.

England Rugby League head coach Shaun Wane. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Rather than foster, though, it has just left a festering ill feeling having inflicted perhaps terminal damage on international rugby league.

Their reasons for pulling out - apparently centred on fears about rising Covid levels in the UK, safety of their players and the need for them to isolate for 14 days upon their return - seem weak to say the least.

That is especially so given the extraordinary lengths and expense RLWC2021 organisers have gone to make it as safe as possible for their athletes, including paying for chartered flights to and from the southern hemisphere.

Moreover, though, is the fact so many players had already indicated they would be willing to make the trip to England. Not only willing but wanted to make the trip. For a bunch of suits in Sydney to so casually scupper that, essentially to make sure their own domestic season starts on time in 2022, is infuriating.

Australia's Cameron Smith of the Kangaroos holds aloft the Rugby League World Cup Trophy after winning the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Final against England at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane in December 2017. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

Let’s not forget, the players are the stars of this game. For those NRL stars now wanting to play for their heritage nations - the likes of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji - one thing is certain: they will be given a heroes’ welcome by fans here if they do manage to arrive this autumn.

For that to happen, though, the RLWC2021 must not cede to the ARLC/NZRL requests to postpone until 2022.

They have already once shown their contempt for the sport. Don’t run the risk of letting them do the same 12 months from now purely if the mood takes them.

And how laughable the same people are talking about bringing Nines to the 2032 Brisbane Olympics. Don’t hold your breath.