This morning has seen two incredible quarter finals at the rugby league world cup as dark horses Tonga have turned over Lebanon – just – by 24 points to 20 shortly before a very low scoring match between New Zealand and Fiji saw the underdogs prevail by the narrowest of margins in a 4-2 win.
Now, I have thought this since the opening matches of this tournament but this morning has made the thought even more promising – it’s time for a new tournament to be added to the international calendar.
Not in place of the world cup but to run alongside the Four Nations competition. In football, you have the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, the latter being the competition for the second tier clubs in Europe and the former being for the big teams. Would it benefit rugby league if, therefore, on a yearly basis – in years when the world cup isn’t taking place – a competition between Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea takes place? In my opinion, yes. If that tournament was played in full stadiums with electric atmospheres, it would help to develop the sport in new areas while also preparing players from these countries for the massive stages that rugby league holds. Furthermore, like in football’s Europa League, the winners could well feature in the next installment of the Four Nations, an idea I know already exists and which has seen the likes of Scotland get embarrassed by England, Australia and New Zealand in the past.
Perhaps it could also allow the premier competition featuring the tier one nations to head to somewhere other than one of their own nations in order to promote the game elsewhere – America, perhaps? Or even central Europe, particularly France?
The sheer quality shown by the likes of Tonga, featuring many top NRL and Super League players, and Fiji indicate that rugby league talent exists in shirts other than Australia, England and New Zealand. Maybe it is time for a new stage for the tier two nations to really battle to earn tier one recognition?