When the 2021 Rugby League World Cup was in limbo after Australia and New Zealand withdrew from the tournament, Melbourne Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen, who has Dutch ancestry, posted a tweet saying “With Aus & NZ out of the RLWC 2021. Who fills in the gap? @NL_Rugby_League surely!.”
Netherlands Rugby League Competitions and National Team Manager Matt Rigby is more than happy to hold the door open and welcome the NRL star should he declare allegiance to his heritage nation.
“Ryan is one of the best players in the world right now, we would be crazy to not want him. Everyone in the Netherlands are huge fans and cheer him on during the season,” Rigby told Everything Rugby League.
While having the Storm fullback in the fold would be a huge coup for Rigby and the Netherlands Rugby League Bond, officials are not sitting on their hands after recently naming a 25 man national training squad featuring players from five domestic clubs.
With Aus & NZ out of the RLWC 2021. Who fills in the gap? @NL_Rugby_League surely!?
— Ryan Papenhuyzen (@ryanpapenhuyzen) July 25, 2021
“We are focusing on ensuring our domestic players are given every opportunity to develop and succeed in rugby league and especially on the international stage. We want to invest for the long-term, as we look to develop with junior clubs through to the mens, in the coming years,” Rigby said.
With national squad training and a domestic trial match in September, the Dutch team are preparing for a busy schedule including the annual Griffin Cup match against Germany on 2 October. The Griffin Cup clash turned out to be the only sanctioned international in the northern hemisphere in 2020 when the Netherlands took out a narrow 20-18 victory.
A reduced squad will then travel to Bodrum, Turkey and participate in the European Championship D competition later in October this year.
“It will be the first time in 15 years that the Netherlands have competed in an official tournament since the World Cup Qualifications in 2006,” Rigby noted.
“The international calendar is an amazing opportunity for us to showcase our rugby league family within the Netherlands across the world. It’s something that I know the coaching team, players, supporters and families all look forward to, and this year is no different.
“The most important thing, as I believe it is for all nations this year, is to continue to play rugby league at every opportunity, even through a pandemic in the safest possible way. The expectation this year is for our lads to embrace the tournament and environment around them, play for the honour of the jersey and make our nation proud.”
Rigby, who hails from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, developed a passion for international rugby league as a teenager after the 2013 World Cup. He was originally focussed on assisting the USA, however due to his young age at the time he shifted his focus to a development league closer to home, eventually linking with the Den Haag Knights. After tasting success finally in the club’s fifth consecutive grand final appearance, Rigby has recently hung up the boots to concentrate on administration.
“I have taken a backseat from playing in the Netherlands, and am now solely focussed on ensuring we are successful as an organisation both on and off the field.”
Like all sporting federations the global pandemic set Netherlands rugby league back, but persistence and hard work meant that all was not lost and some activity continued during a difficult period.
“COVID has been a seriously frustrating situation for both 2020 and 2021. We were poised for a groundbreaking five-team competition, with a new sponsor, and live streaming of matches in 2020, along with developments of youth teams, which was wiped out completely in 2020 and 2021. This year, we hosted three weekends of domestic nines as a return to rugby league
“We successfully managed to stage the only men’s rugby league International on the planet in 2020, which is an incredible achievement by our team. The match was originally due to be played in Leiden, then Amersfoort and finally Zwolle, after COVID forced Governmental restrictions in certain regions. The match was live streamed on YouTube and hit over 4,000 views. It was an enormous success in our first event as a new board, where we were able to also pay respects to (German rugby league pioneer) Simon Cooper’s life and legacy.”
Inspired by seeing Greece and Jamaica qualify for the 2021 World Cup (now to be played in 2022) Matt and the Netherlands management team are focussed on a future Cup berth while acknowledging there is some hard work to be done in the meantime to make it happen.
“We would absolutely love to be in a position where we can compete for a World Cup place, however we have a lot of work to do domestically first to raise an internal profile before we get to this stage. It is absolutely our passion to ensure there is a Netherlands side in a future RLWC.”
“Our main focus is to ensure that rugby league has a long-term future in the Netherlands, and that comes from the foundations. Having domestic players in our national squad is a vital part of our growth to give all our players the international opportunity to represent their nation. In the 2021 Euro D competition, we will have a full squad of domestic players. That just goes to show the belief we have in our own players and opportunities we want to reward them with.”