By STEVE MASCORD
THE day after the final match of the international season always feels like the circus has left town.
Adding to that sensation, they’re tearing down the fan village in King George’s Square outside Brisbane town hall, where there had been bars, pass-the-ball competitions and interviews with former greats in the lead-up to the World Cup final.
Your correspondent is off to the Sofitel Hotel at lunchtime yesterday to meet Jason Moore from the 2025 World Cup and his off-sider, former NBA vice president of international development John Paul Basile.
And you know what? For rugby league, the circus hasn’t left town. After half an hour in their presence, I’m hopeful the big top is actually about to go up for the first time.
There was another game on over the weekend, one that was perhaps even more important than that featuring Josh Dugan’s ankle-tap on Kallum Watkins.
It was rugby league’s new world colliding with the old; like 500 years ago except hopefully without the guns, disease and resulting carnage.
Toronto Wolfpack owner David Argyle flew in at 2am the morning of the World Cup final and left 9am the next morning for San Paulo.
In the meantime, he was given a tour of the Brisbane Broncos’ new $27 million training facility at Red Hill by the club’s CEO Paul White – who missed the World Cup final for a police academy reunion which Wayne Bennett was also supposed to attend.
Gary Hetherington was with them, so was our good mate Alex Simmons of Rugby AM.
Argyle had also not met Moore or Basile – the men hoping to make an even bigger impact on the North American continent than the Wolfpack – until some time around midnight Saturday night.
It wasn’t just old and new. The new world was also colliding with itself.
For two months I’ve sat on the news that Moore wanted England to play New Zealand in Denver on the stand-alone Origin weekend next year, June 22-23. The Australian businessman, who is writing the RLIF a fat cheque to host the 2021 World Cup, promised he would confirm it on the record but needed time to sell the idea to the players, the NRL and the clubs.
With the proposal to be detailed to clubs in Sydney tomorrow, however, it wasn’t going to stay a secret for much longer.
Just to make sure there are no misunderstandings about what is on the record and what’s off it, I slide the iPhone in front of him in the hotel café and hit the voice memo ‘record’ button.
So England-New Zealand hasn’t been publically discussed for 2018. Why is that?
“Because the negotiations are still progressing,” Moore answers carefully. “They’re progressing well but it’s the opportunity for the players to go to a new market and to showcase the elite level of rugby league to one of the most lucrative marketplaces on the planet.
“More importantly, what a great opportunity for the players to have a great experience and (for) the NRL clubs and the Super League clubs to start the journey of getting exposure to that market place and start the opportunities of growing their fan bases and the broadcast and the merchandise and everything that goes with that over a period of time.
“This is the opportunity to start bigger and better things.”
OK, Jason: what exactly is the proposal?
“What is the proposal? To play a fully-fledged, internationally sanctioned Test match in the United States of America on the bye weekend afforded to us by the Sunday State of Origin game.”
Can you be more specific about the venue?
“The venue? There are many opportunities that are available. A number of leading stadia in the country are being discussed at this particular juncture.”
OK, have you made any progress while in Brisbane on the proposed domestic league in North America?
“This all forms part of the start of that journey and the domestic comp is certainly moving forward. This game forms part of that strategy, part of that roll-out. We see the domestic comp, the 2025 Rugby League World Cup, other international fixtures, NRL fixtures, Super League fixtures, World Club Challenge all taking place between now and 2025 which all wraps into the start of an elite standard professional competition in the USA and Canada.”
The fact that the proposal will be tabled at an NRL club meeting tomorrow would seem to mean it is not over the line.
But the fact Moore is now willing to go public suggests he is confident of the green light, with the leagues and players association already onside.
“Everyone’s working together and everyone’s now at the point where they’re satisfied that the event is going to be a showcase of the game,” he said.
“Certainly the New Zealand Rugby League and the English rugby league, the NRL and the NRL players association are all behind it.
“They all want to see it happen because they all see where it can be and what can happen and how that’s all going to benefit … not only the game as a whole but each core stake holder.
“Everything rises together with this.”
No doubt, there will be hurdles. When England’s coach can tell Anthony Milford he is barred from representing Samoa and not be required to give any reason, the mind boggles at the sort of injuries some players will no doubt come up with to avoid getting on that plane to Denver six months from now.
Perhaps if the game is at Mile High Stadium, we’ll get players pulling out due to fear of heights.
But we’re off and running. Things have really changed. On the way back to my digs I pass Scott Taylor and Luke Gale in the street.
I want to shout “see you in 16th Street Mall next yet” … but I don’t. Because that would be stupid.
First appeared in RUGBY LEAGUE WEEKLY