As the National Rugby League (NRL) looks ot open it’s 2017 schedule, the game is looking good. Aside from some of the regular personalities enjoying the limelight, it would look like this season might open right to plan. A relief for administrators; especially since the John Graham issue seems to have passed, so we should see rugby league ready to begin a New Year with the Auckland Nines tournament in February and a history making venture in Canada that will break new ground in English rugby league.
Rugby League Ready to Begin A New Year
After the holidays (as short as they were for professional athletes) it is straight into the action. There has to be a beginning, and that is pre-season training. The hard grind, involving laps, the dreaded Yo-Yo sessions, gym workouts and skills development. Not the yet the glory–like running in for a match winning try on HD livestream–the squad has to put in long hours now, which will pay off later.
While ‘Grow the Game’ is the motto for rugby union, it naturally applies to the 13’s game too. Here at Last Word On Rugby we recognize the close relative that is Rugby League. The six tackle game is more popular in Australasia, where the ingrained NRL has long been the prized possession of the games crown.
That being said, the spread of the game is wide. A faster style than rugby union, it has fans from Dunedin, New Zealand to Oxford, England. All keen to enjoy their sport from the very start of the new year and in 2017 the action covers both hemispheres.
League Fans Have Great Expectations
The Telstra Premiership is hugely popular, but prior to that full season kicking off on March 2 there is a more exciting brand of the game to be enjoyed: the Auckland NRL Nines.
Jersey Launch ✅
— NRL Auckland Nines (@NRLAKL9s) December 8, 2016
Now in it’s fourth year, the Nines are a pre-season tournament with more fun than any serious factor. Not that teams don’t take it seriously, but sides use the weekend as a trial, for a fitness evaluation more than for any inter-change strategy or game plans. Nines suits those teams who adapt fastest, and that unpredictability factor is what the fans enjoy the most.
Auckland Nines Take Center Stage Pre-Season
League supporters get dressed up for the two day event held at Eden Park, Auckland. It is promoted widely, with social media engagement will be ‘off the chart’. A benefit is the weather in Auckland is usually easier to manage than a 30 degree plus day in Sydney. And no doubt, the atmosphere at Eden Park should peak at critical levels by the final on Sunday afternoon. When the winners prize is awarded, the only question is ‘who will be successful?
The players available could determine who your favorite club goes. Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck may lead the Warriors [hometown side] to glory. But opposing them, champion playmaker Johnathon Thurston will want to perform for his North Queensland Cowboys, as will Jarred Hayne for the Gold Coast Titans.
Who can say–maybe the Premier Cronulla Sharks will hold both titles [after claiming their first title in 50 years]. Even rank-outsiders the Newcastle Knights might have a chance, the competition is so even. The tournament in early February is unpredictable for sure, the Nines starts the year off with a bang.
— Radio Sport (@radiosportnz) January 4, 2017
Two Week PreSeason Window
At the conclusion of the Nines, it will be followed by a handful of preseason warm-up games. This includes the NZ Warriors v Gold Coast Titans, Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North. A great opportunity for central North Island fans to see the Warriors play on their doorstep. What it does remind fans too, and players for that matter, is that an incredibly long year is ahead of them. From the Nines to the Rugby League World Cup in December–certainly exciting, but also as daunting a season for any other professional sport.
Meanwhile, up in the Northern Hemisphere, league sides will again compete in many divisions throughout England, Wales and across Europe. The Super League, and lower divisions below will all chase for glory. The solid support in the UK is longheld, with many of those teams having been established for decades, but in 2017 a new team will compete in their debut season.
Toronto Wolfpac enter English Division League One
In a first, the Toronto-based professional rugby league team have entered the UK league to develop and build the game in Canada, and North America. The Wolfpack will begin play in March 2017. The regular season will have 11 home matches to be played at Lamport Stadium ‘The Den’.
They play 11 away matches in Europe, before the playoffs and the Challenge Cup. In a great example of ‘rugby united’ values, Toronto signed an affiliation agreement with a West Yorkshire community club, Brighouse Rangers to use their UK training facility. The relationships grown over this first season, will benefit all parties–building a pathway for rugby league players in North America.
— Oxford Rugby League (@Oxford_RL) October 28, 2016
This first entry from a team across the Atlantic will be historic in 2017, with fixtures in Canada and the UK that will be the start of something special. “I’m excited about the prospects of scouting North America to find gridiron and rugby players that can make the transition to become professional rugby league players”, says Brian Noble, Director of Rugby [courtesy of torontowolfpack.com].
An ambitious move which has league watchers, and the CEO of Last Word On Sports Mike Kovacs excited. It maybe the start of a new North American league confidence that can filter onto the International rugby league scene. Canada can boost both their playing numbers; and in the future face stiffer global opposition.
Rugby League Ready To Grow in 2017
While the power center of the sport revolves around Australia, New Zealand, England and France, the game certainly has a wider reach. Admittedly those teams usually reap the rewards and contest the lucrative Four Nations tournaments, in time and with more global competition, a disparity now could bring more teams up to a competitive level.
In a little over 290 days, the eyes of the league world will fall on the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. Hosted by Australia and New Zealand, it will showcase the men’s and women’s sport, and see teams like Papua New Guinea, Wales and new nations like Lebanon (see below) and Ireland compete. A feature window on the game, and crown two new World Champion sides.
In fact, only 11 of the 14 teams are confirmed, so a developing nation like Canada may still see themselves competing by October.
MEET THE TEAM TUESDAYS: LEBANON CEDARS
— RLWC2017 (@RLWC2017) December 13, 2016
It should be a great event, which is to be played immediately following the Telstra Premierships conclusion. With that world focus, the game can only grow and improve. Participation across all leagues from more nations, like the new Canadian-based team as the Toronto Wolfpack, are great strides forward.
More teams, more players; both men and women, can only be good for rugby league/union and football in general.
“Main photo credit”