How can Rugby League become popular in Ireland?

How can Rugby League become popular in Ireland? Ireland now know their schedule for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup where they will be determined to improve their standing from […]

How can Rugby League become popular in Ireland?

Ireland now know their schedule for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup where they will be determined to improve their standing from the last competition.
Stuart Littler’s men were placed in Group C of the draw for the tournament in England. There they will face off against Jamaica, Lebanon and New Zealand, who themselves have a point to prove after their underwhelming performance four years ago.

 

The draw will certainly aid Ireland’s hopes of progressing to the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 2008 – even though there is an element of caution as Lebanon are ranked higher than the Irish in the world rankings. There they battled well to reach the semi-final qualifier stage, only to be beaten by Fiji. It was their best performance to date and ironically further the union side have advanced in the Rugby World Cup.
Having said that Ireland’s hopes of making a decisive impact are not encouraging, being backed in the Rugby League odds at 250/1 to win the competition. Even Littler would agree that would be a miraculous feat, but there’s no reason why his side should not be able to compete even with the elite sides.
There’s talent available in the ranks, although not quite the embarrassment of riches that the Union side has at its disposal. Skipper Bob Beswick is a veteran with many years of Super League action under his belt at six clubs. James Bentley has pedigree playing for current champions St Helens, while Oliver Roberts, Joe Keyes, Ethan Ryan and George King also have a great deal of ability.
Depth is a major concern, while none of the players mentioned were actually born in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. It highlights the issue that has been raised several times by the governing body of Irish rugby league of attracting players away from union and Gaelic football. Ronan Michael is a rare exception that transferred his skills from the latter towards league. Players following in his footsteps would be a welcome sight.

The issue is prevalent in Ulster, and across the entirety of Northern and the Republic where youngsters are lured towards union from a young age. It’s no indictment against the league code, but union is in the Irish blood – it’s tradition. The sport has a stronger following and the majority of households will be tracking the progress of their respective regional sides and especially the national team.
Just as players in Yorkshire and Lancashire are ushered towards a career in league rather than the union code. There is obvious bias, and although the union side are yet to win the World Cup – their continued success in the Six Nations has encouraged the pipeline of talent to continue to surge towards their ranks. It shows no sign of slowing down in the near future.
It may take a watershed moment by the league side at the Rugby League World Cup to perhaps capture the attention of the nation. A victory over a leading team in the competition, especially England, could provide the spark that puts league to the forefront of sport for even a small period of time. Even if only a handful of players are representing Ireland in the next World Cup are born in the homeland it would be a major step forward for the sport.