By Brian Lowe, Date: 29/6/18
As the dust settles on the Rugby League Football International Challenge in Denver the debate now inevitably turns to whether it was worthwhile? Was it a success? And should we do it again?
The answer to all three questions is yes, at least in my opinion.
By way of full disclosure, I will fess up to being a late convert. I wasn’t opposed to it from the start, but I didn’t totally buy in right away either. As a journalist, one’s job is to report on something like this when it’s first announced, cover both sides of the ensuing debate and then report on the event itself.
I did all of that with a bipartisan approach because that’s what journalists are supposed to do, right.
One of the keys to reporting on things like the Denver game is to have an open mind because it enables one to see all sides as opposed to someone who might be against it for one reason or another, or conversely, someone who drinks the Kool-Aid right from the get go.
The latter two mindsets will result in skewed coverage one way or the other.
So, was it worthwhile? Well, if you’re an advocate for expanding the game globally then yup, you can check that box because it was the first step en route to achieving that end goal.
To borrow a quote from England head coach Wayne Bennett, “We’ve got to come back. We’ve got a great product.”
He’s right. The game may not have been as thrilling as the semifinal between England and New Zealand at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, but nonetheless it was pretty darn good.
A lot of points were scored and there were some big hits, so anyone seeing their first game of league probably would have gone away thinking you know what, that’s not too shabby.
Was it a success? Yes sir, I think you have to check that box too.
From a logistical standpoint, Mile High stadium was in picture perfect condition and from a media perspective, it’s definitely the best stadium I have been to anywhere in the world regardless of the sport. Up until now, I’ve rated the Giants’ AT&T ballpark in San Francisco as the best.
While there has been some conjecture as to whether the crowd of 19,000+ was good enough, given that it was the first time rugby league had been played there on a day when the Colorado Rockies had a baseball crowd of 39,000 just a few blocks away at Coors Field again you’d have to say yes, that’s an affirmative.
Oh yeah, the pre-game entertainment was good too which added to the whole ambiance of the event.
Should we do it again? You bet.
You would have to think that if the game goes back to sky high Colorado in 2019 chances are the crowd would be even bigger.
Promoter Jason Moore believes it’s likely that people who were at the game last Saturday will tell family and friends about it and consequently will bring additional folks with them next year and why wouldn’t they?
Assuming the English and Kiwis repeat the exercise for a third time in 2020 as planned, perhaps other countries could be added to the mix after that, including the USA, to make the International Challenge an ongoing event on the calendar.
Americans are just as parochial as anyone else when it comes to sport and there’s no doubt they would relish the opportunity to see their national team the Hawks play a team like say Samoa for instance, but that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.
For now, England vs New Zealand Mach II and III should get the green light.
The next hurdle will be to convince NRL clubs that growing the game internationally really isn’t a bad thing, and that by willingly playing a part in it, they can help the game collectively achieve that goal.