Rugby League World Cup: Tireless work from organisers gives tournament renewed hope - Dave Craven

I HAVE to admit, I feel a little grubby watching the NRL nowadays.

HIGH PRAISE: For Jon Dutton, chief executive of the RLWC2021, and his team. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Not long after their selfish, needless and unedifying decision to pull players out of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup – essentially forcing the tournament’s postponement for 12 months – I switched on a game and turned it off almost immediately.

It just did not feel right. It felt dirty. Grimy.

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And, even now, it is still far from palatable.

Three weeks on from the RLWC2021 having to postpone, when anyone asks me about it all – “I see the World Cup’s off…?” – it still makes me wince and mutter unprintable things about faceless suits Down Under.

That’s no offence to the players, of course; they are the innocent party here.

And things are getting better; I managed at least 20 minutes of Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans the other day before finding other things to occupy my time.

Nevertheless, it still irks me.

HOLDERS: Australia, who won the 2017 tournament, and New Zealand had refused to attend the RLWC if it went ahead this autumn. Picture: SWpix.com.

All of that said, my mood was lifted considerably when seeing this week’s news about plans for the tournament in 2022.

It is unimaginable the logistical nightmare RLWC2021 chief executive Jon Dutton and his diligent team must have faced when beginning to sift through the wreckage of Australia and New Zealand’s late withdrawal.

Trying to rearrange all of that for 12 months’ time?

Unimaginable, yes. But it is no surprise that they have managed to retain so much of the excellent work that had been put in place.

Credit has to go to them for working so swiftly and positively in making the best out of a bad situation. Again, no great shock given how that team have operated thus far.

Clearly, there is still much work to be done, not least in securing other venues.

But knowing that the tournament can retain its opening match – England v Samoa – at Newcastle’s St James’ Park and the men’s / women’s double header finals at Manchester United’s Old Trafford – both as originally planned – is a massive fillip.

Furthermore, confirmation the BBC will still show all 61 games live, as promised this year, is clearly significant and it is pleasing to see so many stakeholders all playing their part to ensure organisers can still try to stage the best competition yet.

For their part, Super League have also aided matters to allow the tournament to move one week earlier than scheduled in 2021 to maximise attendance and viewership.

Crucially, next autumn the World Cup will now fall before its football variation and after the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Hopefully fans can play their part, too, and, where possible, those who have arranged to attend in 2021 can still do so in 2022 once the rest of the schedule and dates are finalised.

Admittedly, there has been concerns in Super League about the levels of crowds in the domestic competition since they were allowed back into grounds after the pandemic.

Having been starved of live action for so long, it was almost expected they would all return and perhaps bring more with them.

It has not happened for myriad reasons, including understandably some of the elder spectators still being concerned by Covid.

Hopefully, the looming play-offs can attract more back but it is imperative Super League has a big 2022 to help maximise the World Cup’s chances.

Undoubtedly, more big decisions lie ahead.