By STEVE MASCORD
NO matter what you think of the religious missionaries who fanned out over the world over the past three or four centuries, you can’t accuse them of craving luxury.
In fact, in their zeal for their scripture of choice, they risked not just extreme discomfort but death.
In rugby league, our top professionals are increasingly accepting their roles as missionaries. They’ve all played in far-flung places and if we are to believe what we’re told, the 2025 World Cup will be in North America.
But Australia, New Zealand and England bring a slice of the Vatican, if we continue the missionary metaphor, with them wherever they go. The Kangaroos reportedly arrived in England for the Four Nations with their own witch’s hats, leaving nothing to the vagaries of local authorities.
Which brings us to Friday night’s amazing 18-18 draw and the complaints afterwards about the state of Zebra Claims Stadium.
Now, even Scotland centre Kane Linnett admitted the former Derwent Park was “probably not up to international standard” – although he hastily added he loved the place and wanted Scotland to continue playing there.
The problem we’ve got is exactly what is “international standard” in rugby league? Steve Manzies made his debut for Australia at Derwent Park in 1994, two World Cup games were played there in 2013 and a combined ANZAC side took on Cumbria in 2004.
In October, I saw the United States play Canada in Wilmington Delaware. It was on a surface that could best be described as a paddock, the players got changed in the carpark and officials had to break into a box to turn the lights on.(continued below)
Kiwis coach David Kidwell’s contention that the best players deserve the best venues and playing surfaces is completely reasonable.
But two things for everyone to consider as they ponder this argument: in order to qualify for the Four Nations, Scotland played on grounds that were no doubt smaller and less comfortable than the the Zebra Claims Stadium. Those games were internationals.
What’s more, there is a very persuasive argument that Scotland would not be accepted if they applied for membership of the RLEF or RLIF now because of the decline in domestic activity there.
So not only was the ground “not up to international standard” but the Kiwis’ opposition weren’t either. And they still held Kidwell’s men to a draw.
The stark fact is this: What New Zealand encountered in west Cumbria on Friday night is what rugby league IS. It’s ramshackle, it’s disorganised, it’s critically under resourced. Perhaps the funding that has been promised by the UK government in conjunction with the World Cup bid will improve Derwent Park but the NRL Is a mutant, the exception to the rule of what rugby league actually is.
If you’re going to be a missionary, you’ve got to expect to be in a boiling pot surrounded by carrots and seasoning occasionally.