Published in Rugby League World after the 2008 World Cup
Rugby League World’s World Rankings
There were over 30 League-playing nations in the world in 2008 which I ranked them in order of how strong Rugby League was in each country, taking both international and domestic matters into account. Each nation has played Rugby League internationally or domestically in 2008.
Australia boast the strongest domestic competition by far and that is unlikely to change for some time. The Kangaroos are an awesome team but they choked when it really mattered in November. But with a new coach and a new trophy to play for this year, they will be favourites to win the 2009 Four Nations, and rightly so.
2 New Zealand
The world champions! The future looks bright too, as they had 13 players in our top 50 teenagers last month – more than England. They may not have a domestic competition to rival the NRL or the Super League but they have a multitude of players starring in both leagues and in many key areas they had more strength in depth than England last year.
A dismal World Cup showing was a huge disappointment to everyone connected with English Rugby League. On the plus side, there are two more teams in Super League now and new quota rules should soon increase the amount of Englishmen playing the game at the highest level. The number of high-quality backs available for the World Cup was depressingly low but class youngsters like Joe Westerman, Kallum Watkins and Richie Myler are being produced although England aren’t producing quite as many as the top-two ranked nations.
Dreadfully disappointing at the World Cup, but Catalans’ performances in 2008 are well worth remembering. In only three years a high number of Super League standard Frenchmen have been produced which is a wonderful effort. Players like Thomas Bosc, Sebastien Raguin and Jamel Fakir have gone from part timers to top-quality players quicker than most would have expected. We’ve placed them in fourth position because of the Dragons’ remarkable progress.
5 Papua New Guinea
Their SP Cup goes from strength to strength and they performed credibly against the Prime Ministers’ XIII from Australia, coached by Mal Meninga. In the World Cup, they shocked England for an hour and did well against New Zealand and Australia. Not a bad year for the only country in the world who can call Rugby League its national sport.
A fantastic World Cup for the Batis and wasn’t it lovely to hear they were running out of satellite dishes back home with the public eager to watch their heroes? Their ten-team domestic league is strong, split up into East and West Conferences, with Vodafone pumping generous amounts of money into the game. They have some high-profile players in the NRL and the Super League.
They underachieved at the World Cup but their domestic game is healthy and they have plenty of big names to call upon internationally. They still remain the side most likely to take a Test match off one of the big nations but 2008 was still a disappointing year for them. They aimed for the semi-final of the World Cup and came up short.
There are a lot of big-name players with Tongan heritage but their World Cup plans were hampered by the enforced unavailability of Taniela Tuiaki and Fuifui Moimoi while Anthony Tupou trained with the Tongans only to be called up by Australia. They have 22 clubs in their two-division competition and the same number of school teams, which are excellent numbers.
The Welsh may not have played in the World Cup (they missed out on qualification by a fraction) but they enjoyed a fantastic year with news of Celtic Crusaders’ inclusion in Super League. The Crusaders have their share of homegrown players who will improve playing at the elite level. Coaching changes at international level look promising as well. At Under-18 level, they won the Euro Nations Cup, beating France in the final.
Ireland enjoyed a wonderful World Cup, proving wrong those who predicted they would return home winless. Their domestic league continues to improve and don’t be surprised to see an Irish team in the Co-operative Championship One in the near future. Their game is well run back home.
Scotland pulled off their first-ever World Cup win last year when they beat eventual semi-finalists Fiji in a classic encounter. There is a domestic competition too and people have discussed the merits of a Scottish side entering the professional game. As with Ireland, they need more homegrown players in the professional ranks.
12 Cook Islands
Cook Islands Rugby League is run by League legend Kevin Iro who has overseen commendable progress at domestic level where they have six open-age teams, sometimes attracting crowds of 1000, as well as Under-17 and Under-14 games. The winners of the 1995 Emerging Nations World Cup would be capable of getting together a more-than-handy side if they were to be included in the next World Cup. They were runners-up in the Cabramatta 9s and won the Valley 8s in February.
A good year for the Russians internationally saw them win the RLEF Euro-Med Challenge in September as they swept aside Serbia 30-4 and Lebanon 80-0. Russia’s domestic league continues to grow and they had two entrants in the 2008 Challenge Cup, Lokomotiv Moscow and Vereya, with Moscow giving Celtic Crusaders a run for their money in the first half of their match in Wales. Plenty more is planned for 2009.
The NRL contains a number of players with Lebanese heritage and they have a promising five-team domestic league with healthy financial backing from the Bank of Beirut, who sponsor their championship. They were desperately unlucky to miss out on a place in the World Cup. Had they not been denied the services of star hooker Robbie Farah they would have probably made it. They have more international plans for 2009.
The Americans have a fair way to go internationally but their domestic progress has been superb – on and off the pitch. Last year’s challenge match between Leeds and South Sydney drew over 12,000 people and over 1,000 people can often be found on the sidelines cheering on Jacksonville Axemen. Their ten-team league is now over a decade old and thriving.
The Serbians enjoyed an eventful year losing to Morocco but beating Celtic de Mably XIII on the same tour. They have a five-team competition and host an annual Origin match between Belgrade and the rest. They lost 38-42 to Scotland in the Shield Final of the Under-18 Euro Nations Cup and they will host a RLEF International Youth Festival in 2009. Along with Russia and Lebanon, they will play in October and November’s Euro Nations Cup with Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
17 South Africa
Their domestic set-up is strong with a number of participants spread across the Tom van Vollenhoven Cup, the Johan Roodt Cup and the Dave van Reenen Cup. They also toured England late in the year playing BARLA representative sides but struggled. The SARL has been going since 1995 and has enjoyed an up-and-down existence.
Big things could be happening for Rugby League in Jamaica with the appointment of former Gateshead Thunder boss Dean Thomas as their coach. Former Newcastle Knights halfback Dane Campbell is heavily involved too and a number of NRL or Super League players would qualify for their national team. They hosted the RAF in January and they have a promising domestic competition.
There are stirrings of a domestic competition in Italy which is great news for League lovers. They also host an annual 9s competition, named after Simone Franchini, a former player who died in a game five years ago. In 2008 they won the RLEF Euro Shield, beating Germany and the Czech Republic.
With an number of Moroccans in the French Elite Championship, they can field a useful Test side and in 2009 they beat Serbia 44-6 and Catalonia 62-12. They also have big plans for 2009.
Greece entered the Student World Cup, winning the Plate Final against France. They beat Scotland along the way and pushed England close.
Germany beat the Czech Republic handsomely by the score of 62-20 but were thrashed by Italy. They also hosted a 9s tournament in Heidelberg which was won by Karlsruhe Raiders.
23 Czech Republic
In 2008 the Czechs hosted the Under-18 Euro Nations Cup, where they beat the Euro Celts, and they entered the Euro Shield. They have a couple of domestic teams, one of which, Beroun Black Panthers, came third in the Heidelberg 9s. They have also hosted tours.
Winners of the RLEF Euro Bowl, the Latvians scored over 100 points in two games against Estonia but they lost 88-0 to a British pioneers side in July.
In February an Australian-based Portuguese side beat Japan in Sydney. They also played in the Cabramatta 9s and they beat Cumberland (the Australian version, not the English!) 34-4 in the autumn. They plan to take the game to Lisbon in June, playing a Select XIII made up of rugby union players, with a 2010 tour to South Africa in the pipeline.
Estonia played Latvia twice in the RLEF Euro Bowl competition, losing the home match 48-10 and the away game 62-10.
Unfortunately Ukraine pulled out of the Euro Bowl competition last year but they are expected to enter in 2009. They pushed a British pioneers side all the way in July before going down 34-18. They have a team, Legion XIII, in the Russian league.
Sadly Rugby League hasn’t progressed in Malta in the last 12 months and the only sign of the game was a Nines tournament they hosted. Their record prior to that had been good and RLW understands that there are plans for games this year. They’ve shown in the past that they can be strong.
29 United Arab Emirates
UAE played Liban Espoirs from Lebanon in March and lost 48-18 while also hosting Saddleworth Rangers in May who beat them 36-18.
Tokyo XIII Warriors played a best-of-three series with Tokyo Crusaders last year. Japan lost 28-16 to Portugal in February in Sydney and entered the Cabramatta 9s.
Holland have proved to be an up-and-down Rugby League nation although they have a poor relationship with the Rugby League European Federation. There has been little activity in the last 12 months, although Zuid Holland beat Oxford University Old Boys in August.
Catalonia played Morocco last year, losing 66-12 while Barcelona will host Catalans v Warrington in May.
33 American Samoa
Entered the Cabramatta 9s last year.
*There have been positive noises about Rugby League coming from Denmark, Pakistan and the Soloman Islands recently and we still have hope that old friends such as Georgia and New Caledonia will pick up the greatest game again.