Written by Zack Wilson
The past two years may well go down as a watershed moment for international rugby league. If the game is going to finally capitalize on its progress then we need to see different teams playing each other.
Here’s five games that would generate genuine interest:
PNG v Tonga, Port Moresby
The Pacific has been the focus for much of the recent resurgence of interest in rugby league, much of which has come from the decision taken by players of Tongan heritage to jump ship from New Zealand and Australia. It’s certainly something that has come about thanks to luck rather than hard development work, but it was much needed.
Papua New Guinea has the most passionate rugby league fans in the world. Bringing the Tongans to Port Moresby would really get the locals going, and the atmosphere would be incredible. Imagine the Sipi Tau in the kind of charged atmosphere you get in PNG. It sends shivers down the spine.
Wales v Jamaica, Cardiff
Jamaica’s recent qualification for the 2021 World Cup means that the spotlight is on the Caribbean nation. Combining homegrown passion and sheer graft with some professional heritage talent, Jamaica look like being a useful addition to the international ranks. A game against Wales would be fantastic, especially in multi-cultural Cardiff, which has one of the longest established African-Caribbean communities in Britain.
France v Samoa, Avignon
France is a team which is crying out for more internationals against well-matched opponents. Not quite strong enough, especially in terms of depth, to give England a proper game, they are still too strong for the rest of Europe. Pacific opposition has to be the answer. A game against Samoa in Avignon would be sure to draw a big crowd. As with everything in rugby league, the logistics behind this week look complicated, but where there’s a will there’s a way. Other sports put on fixtures like this, and we should be able to do so as well.
Scotland v Canada, Toronto
Scotland’s strong cultural links with Canada are well known – there has always been plenty of Scottish emigration to Canada, with a surge occurring just after World War Two. Many Canadians are very proud of being Scottish-Canadian. Bringing the Bravehearts to the Wolfpack’s Lamport Stadium would be a great way to promote the game in Canada. There are plenty of authentic Scottish cultural institutions in Ontario who could be relied upon to generate a Caledonian atmosphere that might make this more of a home game for the Scots.
Serbia v Ireland, Belgrade
The Serbs will have been disappointed to have missed out on qualification for the 2021 World Cup in recent months, and to have been relegated to European Group C, but they are a rugby league bright spot in the Balkans. They played France for the first time earlier this year. A game against the Irish, especially given the RLI’s desire to field as many domestic players as possible in internationals, would be great in Belgrade. If one or two of Ireland’s Super League players actually put their hand up, or were allowed to by their clubs, then that would be even better.