1) Playing internationals is more important than anything else
However awesome the sporting theatre, Wigan v Leeds in Manchester is a regional scrap as far as the rest of Britain is concerned. England just need to play. Despite the embarrassment of it not being on TV, press coverage of the England v France friendly dwarfed that of regular Super League games. The Observer gave it half a page, and attention on the Kiwi series, which starts at Hull on Sunday, will far surpass that if England do well.
2) England success is key to raising league’s profile
The nation is crying out for any England team to win something. Here’s a simple plan for transforming our status in the nation’s sporting landscape: beat the understrength Kiwis, follow it up with victory in the Four Nations next year, then win the 2017 World Cup. Simple, really.
3) We need more rugby league on free TV
Having 40-odd live games on ITV in six weeks has been phenomenal exposure for union. And while the Rugby World Cup reached its climax, ITV also screened Premiership highlights. After 10 years on satellite, English cricket is now trying to get back on free TV. The NRL now has four games a week on free-to-air TV down under; Super League have none. With Sky having rights to England’s games after the Rugby League World Cup in 2017, we are in danger of hiding our sport.
4) Tournaments have the most impact on public awareness
Test Series and World Cups work because the event is being promoted for longer and the public have repeated opportunities to attend games, watch on TV, buy merchandise, read about it online and talk about it at the pub. Make the European Championship an annual tournament hosted in one country, like a mini World Cup.
5) Take the game to countries that want it
The Rugby World Cup 2019 is going to Japan and in 2017 the rugby league edition is going to Papua New Guinea, who are spending a fortune on a new stadium to bring three games to Port Moresby. Our sport needs to invest in nations that show an appetite for league: the Pacific Islands, Serbia, Jamaica and Canada. And don’t treat every nation the same. A top down approach of high profile exhibitions and internationals is required in the US, but other nations need grassroots growth.
6) Don’t worry about eligibility
The general public doesn’t know or care. Just make sure the superstars are on board for the high profile events. When the USA fielded a load of antipodeans at the Rugby League World Cup in 2013 there was uproar. When USA Rugby selected 10 overseas players for the Rugby World Cup there was no such fuss. Just make sure you have enough players with the right accents to do press and TV.
7) To get to the top table you have to do it tough
Argentina lost 18 of their first 21 Rugby Championship games against South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Now, having adjusted to those extremely high standards, Argentina are world class, too. In League, that means France taking on England twice a year (and Fiji, Samoa etc playing NZ and Australia) to force them to improve, not skulk away again in shame at the Leigh debacle. The RLEF have done a fine job of providing suitable levels of competition for all, rewarding success with the next step up.
8) Improve other nations by lending them your brainpower
Knowledge sharing is a quick and relatively simple way of raising standards away from the heartlands. Union have done it: many of the minnows coaches are from top tier nations. League needs an international programme to send our top coaches, conditioners etc to work with raw playing talent and domestic coaches. Brian McDermott (USA), Matt Parrish (Tonga), Paul Broadbent (Italy) are trying but there should be centrally-funded appointments.