Often described as one of the most physically demanding and toughest sports around, it comes as something of a surprise that rugby league has never quite made the big impact that the union code has achieved in the modern era of the game.
Some put it down to the north/south divide of codes in England whilst others say that the union boom was ignited by England winning the World Cup in 2003. Well all this could be about to change as the Rugby League World Cup crashes into town from this Saturday and sees 14 nations do battle for the top honour in international rugby league.
There certainly won’t be a shortage of blood, guts and battered limbs but for those of a more sensitive nature, Lovell Rugby takes a look at a few reasons why you should convert to rugby league over the coming weeks.
New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams is playing
If you weren’t already familiar with the name then you certainly soon will be as the biggest name in rugby league is coming to our shores for the tournament. Already a union World Cup winner with the All Blacks in 2011 and renowned for his powerful play and big hits, Williams is a born winner and recently formed part of the Sydney Roosters NRL Grand Final winning team. Almost missing out on the Kiwi squad after initially making himself unavailable, Sonny’s inclusion significantly improves the chances of them retaining their title.
We should also mention that SBW just happens to be the number one heavyweight boxer in New Zealand!!
Watch the world’s most expensive rugby league player
Having played his entire career at Wigan Warriors, Tomkins recently announced that he will be testing himself in the NRL next season by making the move to the New Zealand Warriors. Not just any old transfer though as he has now becomes the world’s most expensive rugby league player so will have the added pressure that comes with this price tag and title.
No stranger to the big occasion, Tomkins signed off in style for Wigan this season by achieving a league and cup double whilst his international career is certainly worth taking note of too. In 2012 the England player became his nation’s all-time leading try scorer, a feat which the 24 year old is only going to further increase as he plays an integral part in the England line-up.
The Burgess brothers
Brothers off the pitch but when the time comes to pull on the England shirt then that’s when the three siblings will unite with the rest of the team. With all three plying their trade for NRL’s South Sydney Rabbitohs then they certainly know how to play alongside each other as twins George and Tom are joined by older brother Sam.
With George having been named the rookie of the year 2013 for the best young player in the NRL and all three having started their rugby careers in Bradford then a triumphant homecoming could well be on the cards when the Burgess boys come to town. Spare a thought for fourth brother Luke who didn’t make the squad but is sure to be his siblings biggest fan during the tournament.
It’s been five long years since the last Rugby League World Cup
Because of the way the international rugby league calendar works, five years is a long time when it comes to the professional game and even more so when it comes to the premier international competition. New Zealand will certainly have savoured every day they have had in possession the trophy since 2008 whilst for Australia it will have seemed like an eternity to exact revenge and attempt to reclaim the silverware. Tournaments come around only once or possibly twice in a player’s career and so everyone involved will be looking to shine on the big stage over the coming weeks.
The good news for rugby league fans is that the next world cup is scheduled for 2017, only four years away this time.
England are amongst the favourites for the title on home soil
Be it football, rugby union, cricket or any team sport in fact, it’s not often that England are tagged as one of the favourites to become world champions but this year they can certainly count themselves amongst the top three in contention for the title. Currently ranked third in the world, behind the two southern hemisphere nations, England will be looking to make the semi-finals at least and then set themselves up for a showdown at Old Trafford in the final on November 30th.
With the advantage of a passionate home following, the closest England have previously come to winning the title was in 1995 when they finished as runners-up. If you count combined success then Great Britain have won outright on three occasions but will need the leadership of Sinfield and the talent of Tomkins to wrestle the trophy away from either Australia or New Zealand this time round.
Australia will be looking for revenge
Australia will have been plotting their revenge since the moment the final whistle blew in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup final. Having been defeated by their antipodean neighbours in their own backyard, for any Australian player and fan this will have come as the most bitter of blows and one which will have taken five years to exact revenge on.
Just like in 2008, the Kangaroos begin the 2013 campaign as overwhelming favourites but will certainly be aware of the threat posed by New Zealand and hosts England. With a squad made almost exclusively from NRL players, Australia know that nothing short of returning home with the trophy will be acceptable by both players and supporters alike. The opening encounter against England on October 26th should demonstrate how they are coping with the favourites tag and may well act as a pre-cursor to the final itself which many fans are predicting.
It’s not just a northern affair
For many rugby fans, rugby league in England is perceived as a northern only affair and played out during the cold winter months amongst deserted stadium. Whilst sentiments of this ring true, the Rugby League World Cup certainly aims to break this mould and opens up the 13-man code to a much wider audience across the country.
Of course there are a number of matches played out in northern hotspots such as Leeds, Hull and the final at Manchester but the opening double header kicks-off at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium whilst other games take place in Wales and France as well as Bristol and London’s Wembley Stadium. With 14 nations competing and 28 matches to choose from, rugby league has never been more accessible for fans of all ages looking to give the sport a try.
The great thing about the 2013 Rugby League World Cup is that there are also plenty of tickets still available at fantastic prices which can make for a great family outing to watch international sport over the coming weeks.
Great way to spend the dark winter evenings
With the clocks changing this signals the start of dark and cold winter nights for the coming months but that doesn’t mean the sporting action has to stop and every team needs your support at the Rugby League World Cup. Whilst you obviously want to support your own country, why not also go along and cheer on the smaller nations such as the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea and Samoa who are sure to put fire in your belly with their ferocious tackling and commitment on the field.
With a number of group matches being staged in the evening, you can get home from work and wrap up in your supporters shirt, hoodie, scarf and beanie for a feast of international rugby that will have you cheering from the terraces.
It’s a tough and physically demanding sport
If you can survive eighty minutes on a rugby league field then you have either not made any tackles or one of the lucky ones. Often described as one of the most physically demanding and toughest sports around, the tackles come fast and hard with injuries unfortunately common place. Rugby league players are a different breed and born to take the biggest of hits.
Expect to see plenty of blood, players laid sparko on the field and 100% commitment put into every tackle. That said it’s certainly not all about brutality as you can’t afford to lose your top players to injury. With a host of Pacific Island nations (Tonga, Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea) competing, what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch.
It’s still rugby after all
Rugby league and rugby unions fans will always argue that their code rules supreme and the differences between the 13 and 15 man games. At the end of the day though, an oval ball is involved and when it comes to national pride and support we should put the differences aside to cheer to cheer on your nation. There is no north/ south divide when the World Cup is at stake so lets embrace the greatest competition in rugby league.
Make sure you show off your support for your nation during the Rugby League World Cup with our collection of international rugby league shirts from Lovell Rugby – the world’s largest online rugby store.