This morning has seen Australia’s winger Valentine Holmes break his own RLWC record for most tries in a match after scoring six in his sides 54-6 mauling of their Fijian counterparts, beating his five tries in their quarter final against Samoa last weekend. It is fair to say that the Australian team haven’t really had to get into their top gear to earn their place in this year’s RLWC final with only England in the tournament’s first game pushing the Aussies anything near close and, even then, completed an 18-4 victory over their English foes.
It is fair to say, then, that Wales coach John Kear’s recent comments that the Australians view the RLWC as a third rate competition, quite a distance behind the NRL and State of Origin. An indication of this is the meagre attendances at matches this tournament, even including the Australians, and the atmosphere of matches outside of Papua New Guinea’s Port Moresby home has, in general, been lacklustre with empty stadiums being painfully evident to television viewers. Of course, there has been exceptions including Tonga’s matches against Pacific Island rivals Samoa and their exceptional victory against New Zealand but, looking just at the Australia match against Fiji today, the corresponding match at the 2013 RLWC in the UK saw an attendance around three times as large – showing the appetite for quality rugby league in the northern hemisphere with the allure of seeing the best players in the world playing a huge part.
Perhaps that is the reason the attendances are low in this RLWC – rugby league fans Down Under are treated to watching the very best players in the world on a weekly basis in their domestic competition so the chance to see them compete internationally is merely another day at the office. This is unlike in the UK where, while the Super League is competitive, it doesn’t have the box office appeal of it’s Oceanic counterpart and doesn’t have the A-list players it craves – although that will, hopefully, begin to change with the relatively new marquee player rule in Super League.
It is great to see that tomorrow’s semi final between Tonga and England is already a sell out with around 30,000 fans set to pack out the Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland and I am sure that the match will be a complete spectacle and genuinely competitive – which is exactly what rugby league needs. It doesn’t need to see Australia breezing past all and sundry, it needs to see real competition, intensity and excitement – not for a second am I suggesting that the Aussies, the undisputed best team in the world, not compete internationally but it is vital that the powers that be look in great detail and with huge importance at ways to improve the chances of other countries in order to provide a viable challenge for the title of the best.