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Last Updated: Monday, 12 November 2007, 07:29 GMT
Wilkin expresses World Cup fears
By Phil Gordos

Jon Wilkin
Wilkin says Ireland, Scotland and Wales have a lot of work to do
Jon Wilkin has questioned whether rugby league is ready for a World Cup, suggesting the tournament could witness too many one-sided games.

Ten teams will fight it out for glory next year, with England and hosts Australia mixing it with the likes of Scotland, Ireland, Tonga and Fiji.

"My fears are the same as anybody else's - I'm worried about some games not being competitive," said Wilkin.

"We just need to be cautious about running before we can walk as a sport."

The 2008 World Cup, which starts on 25 October, will be the first for eight years.

The 2000 tournament, staged in Britain, had its fair share of landslide victories, among them Australia's 110-4 demolition of Russia, New Zealand's 84-10 romp against the Cook Islands and England's 66-4 thrashing of Fiji.

I just don't want it to be a competition which is thrown together to make it look like we've got a world game

Jon Wilkin

It also made a heavy financial loss.

But rugby league's powerbrokers are keen to stage another in an attempt to increase the game's worldwide popularity, even though just three teams - holders Australia, New Zealand and England - have any real prospect of winning it.

For the other seven nations, it is about testing themselves against the very best and avoiding a drubbing in the process.

"This may very well be the kick-start that the game needs in these emerging nations," said Wilkin, who helped Great Britain seal a 3-0 series win over New Zealand at the weekend.

"I just don't want it to be a competition which is thrown together to make it look like we've got a world game when in reality rugby league is played on the eastern coast of Australia and the M62 corridor in the north of England.

606: DEBATE

"These areas are the strength of the game and I think we've got to develop other areas in a similar way and get rugby league as a recognised sport in a lot more areas instead of pretending that a sport is fully developed in all these regions."

For St Helens forward Wilkin, the lack of any Welsh, Scottish or Irish players in the Great Britain squad proves those particular countries still have a lot of developing to do.

Indeed, Wales failed to qualify for the World Cup after losing to Lebanon.

But Wilkin is also concerned they are trawling other countries like Australia for players rather than focusing on nurturing home-grown talent.

"How many of their players are legitimately Irish, Scottish or Welsh?" he said. "Or are they putting teams together for the sake of a World Cup?

"I'd like to think they're at the World Cup because they've got an infrastructure that allows elite players to come through the system, not just because we need 10 nations there.

Andy Farrell captained England in the 2000 World Cup
England, led by Andy Farrell, beat Fiji 66-4 at the last World Cup

"Maybe they would be better investing the money they'd use taking a squad to a World Cup in developing the youth structure in those areas, getting young kids to play the game rather than gathering people who are some sort of distant relatives in that country.

"It's a Catch-22 situation really because as a player you want to be involved in a World Cup.

"At the same time you want to be involved in a tournament which is competitive and where you're playing against players who have been brought up in a system in their country, played rugby league in their schools and come through that system."

The head coaches of both Ireland and Scotland have already hinted they will look to strengthen their teams by recruiting players from Super League and the NRL with the necessary ancestry.

Although to be fair to Andy Kelly and Steve McCormack, both Ireland and Scotland employed a lot of players from their respective domestic leagues during their successful qualifying campaigns.

Wilkin hopes that trend continues.

"As a player I want to play in the World Cup and I think it's the right way to go, I just want these countries to develop rugby league at grassroots level more," he said.

I'm sure the World Cup will be a success and all the England players and those in Super League are all fully supporting it

Jon Wilkin

"The next 12 months will be an interesting period to see just how much development there is in those areas.

"I'd like to see more children playing the game at schools in those countries, developing an infrastructure from which players can grow."

Nevertheless, Wilkin is looking forward to the tournament, which has been won nine times by Australia and three times by Great Britain since the inaugural event in 1954.

"I'm sure the World Cup will be a success and all the England players and those in Super League are all fully supporting it," he said. "We'll do everything to make sure it's a success."

  • The 10th and final place at the World Cup will be decided on Wednesday, when Samoa and Lebanon meet in the repechage final at Featherstone.



    SEE ALSO
    World Cup qualifying
    10 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
    Ireland to step up talent search
    03 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
    Ireland draw seals World Cup spot
    02 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
    Scotland 16-18 Wales
    04 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
    Welsh hit hard by World Cup exit
    10 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
    Wales 26-50 Lebanon
    09 Nov 07 |  Rugby League


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