Rugby League Word Cup stirs widespread interest

Ravi Nyayapati

New Zealand’s impeccable record of hosting global sporting events will be put to test again later this month, when, along with Australia and Papua New Guinea, it will stage the 15th edition of the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC).

The tournament will take place between October 26 and December 2, 2017.

Over the last decade, the country has had remarkable success in showcasing some of the biggest sporting contests.

New Zealand under focus

The triumph of Rugby World Cup in 2011 flowed well into the well-executed Cricket World Cup and FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2015, and more recently the World Masters Games in 2017.  Soon, we will be the focal point once again while putting up the 63-year-old event featuring 14 teams.

Multisport events such as the Olympics tend to demand exorbitant investment, making them poor financial choices for any reasonable sized country.

On the contrary, events such as these have a wide reaching positive impact for the country, not just economically but also at a socio-economic level.

To put it into context, the previous edition of RLWC, held in England and Wales in 2013, produced a record financial return close to NZD $7 million. The direct economic impact of the tournament for the hosts was an estimated NZ $18 million.  It was broadcast into 114 territories with a worldwide audience reach of 134 million.

Inspiring World Cup

Its final report also highlighted an inspirational aspect of RLWC by stating an additional 30,000 people had been inspired to become involved in Rugby League. Perhaps such findings justify the shock bid by South Africa to host the 2017 event. They did this without government backing and against the particular fascination of the country with Rugby Union – the alternate version of the game.

It was in 2014 that Australia and New Zealand were awarded the hosting rights for the 2017 event, and an amendment was made in late 2015 when Papua New Guinea were included as joint hosts with three games, upon a special request from the tiny island.

RLWC History

RLWC has a richer history than commonly known.

The idea of a Rugby League World Cup tournament was first mooted in the 1930s with the French proposing holding a tournament in 1931, and again in 1951.

It 1954, it finally launched in France, well before the Rugby Union World Cup, although the latter now has a greater global attraction.  Australia, France and New Zealand are the only teams to have played in all tournaments.

The 14 tournaments held to date have been with irregular intervals and in a number of different formats.

In its long history, only three nations have won the competition.

Rugby League’s immense popularity in Australia accounts for their dominance by winning ten of the 14 titles to-date.

Great Britain has won it three times and New Zealand won its maiden title by stunning then hosts Australia 34-20 in the 2008 finals at Lang Park, Brisbane.

Aussie Revenge

Australia got their revenge against the Kiwis in 2013 by humiliating them 34-2 at Old Trafford, Manchester.

The losing New Zealand side featured the iconic Sonny Bill Williams as well as Warriors star Shaun Johnson who was the top scorer of the tournament.

Williams has a history of changing game formats and excelling in each.

The 2017 tournament will have 28 matches.

The tournament kicks off with co-hosts Australia squaring off against England.

Seven games will be played across New Zealand in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Christchurch.

For Hamilton, the match between Samoa and Tonga on November 4, 2017 will be the city’s first ever Rugby League Test match.

The usually vibrant Mt Smart Stadium will host New Zealand’s first match against mighty Samoa on 28 October.

It will also put up the second semi-final on November 25, 2017, whereas Brisbane will take the honour of hosting the finals on December 2, 2017.

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