Proponents of a stronger international
rugby league program – myself included – will warmly welcome the decision to
shift the Tri-Nations series to Australia and New
Zealand at the end
of the 2006 domestic season, to be played between mid-October and late
November.

The decision to hold the series down under
after the long domestic season will have its critics, but if rugby league is to
have a credible “international” or “multi-national” future there is little
alternative.

Rugby league needs to ensure one of the attractions for its leading
players is the chance to wear the green and gold of the Australian Kangaroos on
a regular basis. Playing for the Wallabies regularly is one of the “incentives”
the ARU offers league players like Mark Gasnier.

Matches will be played in Brisbane, Melbourne, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, as
well as at the Aussie Stadium. If the crowds at these centres don’t
measure up, and the series is repeated in 2007, regional centres such as
Townsville, Wagga, Dubbo, and even Perth should be
considered.

In one sense, the concept is a gamble by
the ARL. It depends on all three teams being competitive. Last year, when
the series was played in England,
the Poms were well below par.

Provided the upcoming “Anzac” test is
competitive – and it should be given the Kiwis tri-nations series win last year
– there should be much greater interest in international matches in Australia
than there has been in recent years.

Some
club coaches and officials will no doubt argue it extends the season too long. But clubs with a number of test players –
such as the Roosters and Broncos – adopt a sensible approach by giving their
stars exemption from the start of pre-season training, and even trial matches.

The timing of the series also presents a
challenge for the A-League soccer competition, scheduled to kick off around
that time. It’s a bold move by the ARL. It deserves to succeed, for the long term good of the game.

Peter Fray

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