Former rugby league star Jamie Peacock says the Rugby League World Cup in England could be the catalyst for the sport to flourish over the coming years.
Peacock is the most successful player in the modern era, winning nine Super League titles and four Challenge Cups during his time with Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls.
He also won four World Club Challenge winners medals, was chosen as the Man of Steel in 2003 and was twice named as the Best Forward in the World.
Peacock captained England and Great Britain at international level, so is undoubtedly well placed to comment on the future of rugby league.
The sport is often viewed as rugby union’s poorer cousin, with the mainstream media regularly overlooking it in favor of the 15-player code.
However, Peacock recently told Betway that the World Cup presents rugby league with a unique opportunity to convince fans that the sport is well worth watching.
“The Super League has probably helped attract more casual viewers and helped the game grow at grassroots level,” he said.
“But I think if this tournament goes well, the game could strengthen through casual viewers becoming more hardened fans, which will then inspire the next generation.
“I think the people watching for the first time are going to see the most exciting team sport on the planet. It’s very simple to understand, but difficult to master with incredible athletes and great intensity.”
One of the biggest issues facing rugby league is it has been pigeon-holed as a sport played exclusively in the northern half of England.
Only two Super League clubs - Catalans Dragons and Toulouse – are located outside of the sport’s traditional heartlands and the latter finished bottom of the table this season.
The governance of the sport is often criticized, with many rugby league experts believing those in charge lack the vision to improve its fortunes.
Recent proposals to change the promotion and relegation rules were not met well by people connected to the sport, with many rallying against what they perceived to be a shift towards a franchise model.
While the controversy on that one has yet to be fully resolved, Peacock believes the geographical concentration of teams in rugby league in the UK is a bigger problem.
The 44-year-old is keen to see the sport in the UK spread its wings and thinks the World Cup could be the spark for a more even distribution of teams in the future.
“It could certainly happen in Newcastle,” Peacock added. “We’ve had the Magic Weekend there for a while and the fact that we’ve got the opening game there could be a catalyst. There’s a foundation there already.
“Then there’s London. Historically, 10 to 15 years ago, we had a strong London team and that could reignite.
“So rather than being focused around the M62, we could get somewhere in the north-east and get back with a bit of a stronghold in London.
“They’re the two areas that could benefit the most from hosting the World Cup.”
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