As we head into the finals of the originally postponed 2021 Rugby League World Cup, there has been one major factor overshadowing everything that has occurred so far; nearly all of the matches haven’t been remotely close in terms of score lines. This is resulting in a lack of engagement, lack of competition, and more one-sided demolitions. It shows that the game of rugby league still has a long way to go regarding the expansion and development of the game, in places differing from the powerhouses in Oceania and the British Isles.
The first sign of this trend came from the opening match, as host nation England took on Samoa. The England squad features a lot of young talent coming through the English Super League system, with others playing in Australia in the NRL. Meanwhile, Samoa’s team featured eight players who played in the 2022 NRL Grand Final and an entire team that plays in the NRL. So, on paper, this was set to be a fantastic close match to open the tournament. Then the match happened and by the end of it, England had won 60 – 6 after being a close 18 – 6 at halftime. This was a major shock to the rugby league community as people were hyping up Samoa as a potential dark horse for winning this tournament. In similar scoring games, Australia would beat Fiji 42 – 8, Ireland would beat tournament debutants Jamaica 48 – 2, and France would beat another tournament debutant in Greece 34 – 12. The only saving grace so far in this tournament for close games is the competitive Group D. This features Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, and Wales for the group’s Matchday 1 fixtures all being separated only by a converted try; Tonga and Papua New Guinea 24 – 18, and Wales and Cook Islands 12 – 18.
Unfortunately, as the tournament progressed, the one-sided results only got worse as the opening match saw Australia demolish Scotland 84 – 0. This would be followed by similar results of Fiji beating Italy 60 – 4, England beating France 42 – 18, New Zealand beating Jamaica 68 – 6, and Samoa bouncing back from their first loss by beating Greece 72 – 6. And finally, as Matchday 3 is currently ongoing, it opened with England beating Greece 94 – 4 and New Zealand beating Ireland 48 -10.
So, what can be said about results like this? Well, it is understandable that teams like England, Australia, and New Zealand were going to be dominant in a tournament like this against nations that don’t have professional leagues, proper facilities, or funding from their governments which have sports like soccer and rugby union obtaining the majority of the focus. For most of these lower teams, they require heavily on players from the three formerly named countries to play for them if they can’t make it into their respective national teams including Aussies like Luke Keary and Billy Magoulias playing for Ireland and Greece respectively. This was the main motivator for a lot of the Penrith Panthers players choosing to play for their heritage of Samoa, rather than the birth nation of Australia. This type of result also explains the almost one-sidedness of the entire history of the competition as out of the 15 tournaments that have been played, only three nations have ever won it – Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand with Australia winning it 11 times. And for most of the early tournaments, those teams plus France would be the only ones to compete, that wouldn’t change until the 1985-88 tournament when Papua New Guinea was added (Wales also featured in 1975 after Great Britain split but would rejoin for the mentioned 1985-88 tournament).
Though there will most likely be more results like this as Matchday 3 continues, it should settle down when the finals arrive where eight of the best teams will decide who will be crowned world champions.