This summer it was announced that Hull FC and Wigan Warriors would face off in Sydney as the first ever Super League regular season match to ever be played outside of Europe. England, Scotland, Wales and France have already played host to such matches but the decision to play the match in Australia seems quite odd to this writer.
In an era where the Rugby Football League and, indeed, the global powers that be are keen to expand the game of rugby league to new parts of the world, Australasia seems the last part of the world which should be considered for such an occasion. The National Rugby League of Australia and New Zealand is infinitely superior to Super League and were the worst teams in the NRL to face off against the best teams from these shores, the matches would still be rather close such is the quality of the players, teams and organisations down under. The chances are that, when Hull FC and Wigan face off in early February, rugby league fans in Sydney won’t be overly impressed by the skill and ability on show – not because Hull FC and Wigan aren’t top teams but simply because the quality will not be of the standard they see week in, week out in their top flight.
Surely, then, if the RFL were keen to expand the game and to play Super League matches in parts of the world where they haven’t been played before, other areas would be worth consideration. The most obvious would be North America, potentially as a double header with a Toronto Wolfpack game. Not only would that continue to develop the game in Canada following their promotion after just one season of existence but also it would give them an insight into how top level teams prepare for big matches – matches the Wolfpack will hope to be involved in from 2019 if all goes to plan next season. It would also boost interest in the game if new rugby league fans are drawn to Lamport Stadium to see top teams they aim to compete with in the future. An alternative North American venue could be New York City. Last month, organisers entered plans with the RFL to enter a rugby league team in the city to feature in the third tier of the game in the same manner as the Wolfpack. Perhaps a way to further boost interest in the game in one of the most densely populated and vibrant cities in the world would be to take a Super League game there.
Proper expansion, exposing the game to new parts of the world, not just sending a game over to Australia in what one can only assume is a money making scheme for Super League, the RFL and the clubs involved.