Answers Sought On International

The vested interests of the strong club bases in Sydney and northern England have been blamed for the abysmal state of International rugby league.

Selwyn Pearson, executive chairman of New Zealand Rugby League, expressed these views during the 50th reunion celebrations of Otago rugby league in Dunedin at the weekend.

"When league started nearly 100 years ago those in charge didn't do a good job in globalising the game," he said.

"The clubs pay the players and that is why we are not able to get a meaningful international programme."

Pearson said tests "were popped in whenever they had a spare weekend.

"That is not satisfactory. We should know what we are doing for the next 10 years.

"They say they are passionate about international league. But how seriously are they taking it?" he asked.

Pearson said Bradford played Wigan in a club match in England and none of their players were available for this month's international when New Zealand beat Australia 30-16.

He said New Zealand was just as badly affected by injuries and the non-availability of players as Australia for that game.

The New Zealand win gave a boost to the international game and has resulted in a sell-out crowd for the first test between the Kangaroos and Great Britain next month.

Pearson said New Zealand rugby league intended putting their foot down and would refuse to play tests against Australia straight after the State of Origin competition between New South Wales and Queensland because it gave an unfair advantage to Australia.

"We are not going to play them any more at that time," Pearson said. "They have got the combinations in place and are match hardened after the State of Origin. We don't have that luxury."

The old "big five" countries in rugby league had now been reduced to three, with Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand far ahead of the rest of the world. The game had deteriorated in Papua New Guinea and France.

The recent addition of countries such as Russia, Croatia, Japan, Italy and Lebanon had boosted the international game.

"Europeans like the game because it is simple and have started a European Cup competition," Pearson said.

Russia will tour New Zealand next year and play Otago in Dunedin.

The other games will be in Christchurch, Nelson and on the West Coast.