Thursday, 11 October 2012

Rugby League Needs A United Global Family

Sometimes news causes strange reactions in a writer. That was the case today when I read about Scotland international Lee Paterson, who has been plying his trade in France and Australia until fairly recently.

Paterson is a journeyman loose forward or stand-off who has won several caps for Scotland and has been playing at a good standard in France and Australia. Not in the NRL, but at a good level.

Yet he now worries that he might not be able to find a club in the UK due to people having forgotten about him.

"I was full-time at Widnes and when that ended, I got an opportunity to go to France," the 31 year old told the Scotland Rugby League's website.

"I knew I was never going to become rich playing rugby league but I could go and see the world.

"So I went and had two great years with Carpentras and had the chance to move to Limoux. But one of the Australians over there put me in touch with Anthony Seibold, the former London Broncos player, who was at Mackay Cutters in North Queensland.

"They're the feeder team to North Queensland Cowboys in the NRL. I thought this would be my only chance to play in Australia. I really enjoyed it there this year and was offered a deal for 2013 but I decided to come home for family reasons. Now I need a club here.

"I'm worried I might have fallen off the radar, having been away for three years.

"I'm hoping these games against Ireland and England Knights will remind clubs over here what I can do. I'm only 31 so I've got two or three years left in me and I'm confident I can still play at Championship level."

It struck me that an international player like this is an asset to the game, especially when it comes to representing Scotland. Paterson has acquired some rich experience, and clubs outside Super League should all be taking a serious look at him.

Maybe some are, but the point is that he should not have to worry about it.

It strikes me that far too often in our sport we forget about what we should be focusing on and instead fight fires of our own making that burn close to our noses.

The international game is a great example of this. There is massive need in rugby league for an international game which works at the highest level.

There is a great deal of very good work being done to promote the game worldwide, with countries like Serbia, Germany, Lebanon and Sweden all at varying stages of good grassroots development.

They have achieved much of that in spite of little recognition from the international game's true power brokers, the NRL.

The real problem is at the highest level though, where State of Origin has superceded test football as the aim of every player.

The way in which born and bred Kiwis have given up the chance to wear the black of their home country because they want to play State of Origin has become embarrassing.

That is a case for another blog, coming soon, but back to Paterson's case.

It is hard to imagine a player in soccer going away to play abroad for years and being completely forgotten about.

Instead, scouts based in the country where he was playing would be detailed to keep an eye on him, for the sake of his national team as much as anything else.

By the time he returned to his home country, many people involved in the game would have a pretty accurate idea of where he was in playing terms, and what he might be able to do for their club.

In rugby league, it seems that such players simply fall off the radar far too often.

Now, distances are greater in a sport that is played mainly in Northern Europe and Australia, and resources are vastly less than those in football, with nowhere near the kind of global community that the 'Beautiful Game' can claim.

But the game of rugby league is too fractured on a global basis. There seems to be no overall plan when it comes to the international game, and no clarity of common purpose.

Vested interests act to protect privilege and keep their own status intact. 

To improve things, and make the international game as successful as it should be, there needs to be a sense of global family, that we all play the same game and want the same things for it.

Too often at the moment, as Paterson's words show, when something leaves our own little box, our own little section of the sport, we forget about it far too easily.

Reform is needed to make rugby league the great international sport it deserves to be. No single body can do it on their own.

'Stumbles and Half Slips' by Zack Wilson is available from, published by Epic Rites Press.

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