Why UK NFL fans should be cheering for Toronto Wolfpack

Dear UK NFL fans (who don’t already have a rugby league team to support),

Support Toronto Wolfpack.

Why?

Because Toronto are trying to do what any NFL franchise based in the UK would have to do.

Now admittedly there are differences between the two: size of squad, overheads and relegation into and out of various leagues for a start…but you can bet your bottom dollar the NFL are keeping an eye on what happens to the Wolfpack, and they will include it in their calculations about whether a UK-based franchise would succeed.

The hurdles Toronto are having to overcome would also be a problem for a UK franchise:

  • The distance (although, as several commentators have pointed out, the flight time between several US NFL teams is just as long as the US/UK flight time)

 

  • Getting homegrown players into the team.  Toronto have done something sensible and clever, they’ve run trials in Canadian and US cities to find people who haven’t quite made the grade in the NFL or CFL (Canadian Football League) but who could transfer their skills to rugby league.  The homegrown player thing is obviously less of a thing in the NFL because of the whole draft thing (and the franchise thing), but I think it would help embed the putative UK team better in the UK.

 

  • Transport, although that’s not a problem for an NFL team as the NFL pay transport costs.  But because the RFL don’t, Toronto have done another clever thing.  They have signed a sponsorship deal with an airline, Air Transat.  The airline are covering the cost of Toronto’s flights and, and here’s the clever bit, the flight costs of the UK teams that are playing Toronto.  Toronto are also being nice and covering some of the travel costs for the UK fans coming over.  Presumably to keep costs low, the matches are being played in sets of 5, so Toronto have 5 games over here, and then five home games back in Toronto.  The putative NFL team won’t need to do that.

 

  • Competition from other sports teams.  Toronto is a good proxy for London (and the UK in general) because it already has a lot of sports teams.  The Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays, the Raptors, the Argonauts and Toronto FC are just some of the teams that the Wolfpack will need to compete against to gain fans and an audience share.

If Toronto show that a transatlantic franchise could succeed, they might well be a stepping stone to getting the London Jaguars.  

So get cheering for them, UK NFL fans.

About the Ambassadorial Contract Nonsense

This is a late response to the RFL’s ambassadorial contracts.  The new salary cap and marquee player rules might have put an end to this nonsense.  However, the RFL still win some sort of prize for really bad ideas with the ambassadorial contracts.

It’s not just the not informing all the teams.  Although that is the level of communication I expect from the RFL.  It’s that it’s a bad idea no matter which way you look at it.

First of all, I look at it as a fan.  Okay, there is an advantage to my team.  It should mean that my team can keep hold of players that would otherwise go to the NRL (or another Super League team).  But that relies on my team being one of the ones whose players are chosen to play for England.  I’m lucky, the occasional Saints player does get picked.  Other teams aren’t so lucky, see any number of Wakefield and Castleford players who have deserved a call-up and didn’t get one because they played for unfashionable clubs.  Or there are players who are the victim of an oversight by a particular coach e.g. Steve McNamara’s refusal to pick Danny Brough.

There’s no way that this idea is fair on Catalan Dragons.  They are, understandably, unlikely to produce any English players through their academy.

It gives an advantage to the teams that are already big.  It also puts any team coming up from the Championship at an even bigger disadvantage than they would have been.

Also as a fan, and using a personal example, I’d rather James Graham have moved to the NRL than to another English team.  One of those is annoying, the other one would have broken my heart.

I think that would also be true if I was an owner or manager.  I’d rather a player leave for Australia rather than play for one of our competitors.

As an England fan, I want the players playing in the best league possible so that we might, eventually, beat the Aussies.  That means the NRL.  One year of results in the World Club Championships does not change that.  I understand that the reason why they brought this in (or tried to) was to reduce the gap.  The RFL think that the NRL are stealing all of the Super League’s best players.  They also think that stopping that will make the gap between England and Australia smaller.

This seems to ignore that the players that go over and succeed are mostly props, not creative players.  Now, I love me my props, see also James Graham, but GB/England have always been able to equal Australia in the forwards.  It’s in the backs where Australia are so much better.  Stopping the backs from getting experience against Australian teams is not going to solve that problem.

What might solve the problem is stopping the English teams bringing in over-the-hill Australians to play in the backs.  Instead English teams should be encouraged to promote players from their own youth systems.

No Super League team is going to agree to that though, because why should they cut their own throats for the national team.  I think there will need to be a carrot and stick approach.  Somehow said carrot (or stick) also needs to be applicable to the Catalan Dragons.  That is where it gets difficult.  There’s no reason for the RFL to help the Dragons, but just as much, there’s no reason for the Super League teams to help the RFL without some sort of reward.

How d’you solve a problem like Italian rugby?

Which sadly doesn’t quite scan to “how do you solve a problem like Maria?”

For the non-rugby union peeps reading, the 6 Nations is the Northern hemisphere annual international competition. Before 2000, it was the 5 Nations. In 2000, Italy were invited to join England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to make it six.

Before Italy joined, it was a toss-up whether it would be them, Georgia or Romania who would be invited to join (it was one of those rare, three-sided coins). The International Rugby Board (or whatever they’re called this year) may have claimed to have a legitimate reason to choose Italy over the other two, but there was always a distinct hint that it was because the bigwigs would rather spend time in Rome than in Tbilisi or Bucharest.

This wouldn’t be a problem if Italy had done better. Only they haven’t, they’ve finished dead last 12 tournaments out of 18. Because of this, there are once again the regular calls to get rid of Italy and replace them with Georgia, or Romania.

I don’t think that will solve the intrinsic problem. This is not because I don’t think Gorgodzilla and friends won’t be awesome and try hard and compete.

None of those have been Italy’s problem either.

I’m a fan of Italian rugby; my heart was won by the Bergamasco boys, so I am biased. Their problem has never been lack of effort.

Their main problem has been having fewer resources than the other five teams. I don’t just mean money, I mean things like strength in depth of players. There was the famous case when England’s reserve players had more caps than the entire Italian team plus reserves. There’s always been a couple of positions where they’re significantly weaker than the other sides. Which particular position changes, the fact of it doesn’t.

Changing which team is the 6th team in the 6 Nations would not solve this problem. Georgia would have it, Romania would have it, just as much Italy have it now. Kicking Italy out and bolting the door would be a waste of the time, money and effort that have gone into Italian rugby in the past 20 plus years.

That doesn’t mean I want to keep the status quo. Locking out the teams in the European Nations Cup is a really bad idea.

Everyone agrees that there is no way that rugby players on the various national teams can play more games. They’re already the walking injured most of the time.

I’ve been informed that there’s no way that the Six Nations can be made less frequent. It was a suggestion I made only to hear the squeak of protest from certain people.

The most sensible thing would be to have a relegation play off between the team last in the 6 Nations and the team coming top of the European Nations Cup (ENC). Then host the game at the ENC team’s home stadium. This plan has several advantages. It gives the teams in the ENC something to play for. It gives a bit of extra money to help the top ENC team to bridge the gap if not that year then the next if they lose. It also gives whichever team finishes 6th (which isn’t always Italy) a chance to save themselves. A win all round I think.