Four Nations: How Wasps helped land the Rugby League World Cup


All aboard for the Four Nations road trip
Four Nations
Venue: Ricoh Arena, Coventry Date: Saturday, 5 November. England v Scotland 17:30 GMT New Zealand v Australia 20:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Two, plus highlights; live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra; text commentary on BBC Sport website and app

International rugby league expands into unchartered territory in Coventry on Saturday – with the help of one of England’s top rugby union sides.

By taking the Four Nations to the Midlands, Wasps – a club with a previously nomadic existence and now owners of the Ricoh Arena – helped England win the right to host rugby league’s World Cup in 2021.

Rugby league thrives along the 127-mile stretch of the M62 between Liverpool and Hull, but the Four Nations is being showcased on a truly national stage – seven games at six venues in six regions, culminating in the final at Anfield.

Jon Dutton, the Four Nations’ tournament director, said: “As we put the bid in for the 2021 World Cup, this international tournament was incredibly important in terms of moving on from 2013 World Cup and working towards that next one here in five years’ time.

“We had a strategy in building the schedule – it was about visibility and profile, using a mixture of iconic venues new to the sport and staging games in core rugby league markets.”

That includes taking England to London Stadium, where victory over Australia – according to retired rugby league great Martin Offiah – is vital if the game is to get renewed life in the capital.

BBC Sport looks at the potential impact of the year’s biggest international tournament, as the Rugby Football League boldly tries to showcase the game across England.

Highlights: England 16-17 New Zealand

A magic place to be?

When Wasps were plotting to relocate from London to Coventry in 2014, rugby league was already part of the grand plan.

Surprising, if you consider them a rugby union club. Logical, if you take into consideration that they were to buy a full share of a 32,500-seater stadium that comes with a 9,000-capacity indoor arena.

Of 777 events in 2015, 16 of them were rugby union matches. Just 35% of their revenue came from the game.

“We knew we had to get the venue working hard all year round and it wouldn’t just be about rugby and football,” said Wasps Group chief executive David Armstrong.

“We need as many uses as we can, so rugby league was in the thinking at the time.”

The Ricoh Arena is home of Premiership side Wasps, League One club Coventry City and will now host international rugby league

The Ricoh Arena has only staged one previous rugby league match – an English third-tier game between Coventry Bears and Keighley Cougars, which attracted a crowd of 1,097.

However, they were showcased as a potential host city for the 2021 World Cup and have bid to stage Super League’s Magic Weekend in the future, which feature six top-flight matches over two days.

“We were pipped at the post by Newcastle for Magic Weekend in 2017,” Armstrong said of St James’ Park’s successful attempt to host the event for a third successive year.

“We hope it will come here in the future and allow fans in the West Midlands the chance to watch all the Super League clubs.

“We would be disappointed if we didn’t have rugby league being played here every year.”

‘JT will open eyes’

Australia’s Johnathan Thurston is a two-time NRL Premiership winner, World Cup winner and Queensland State of Origin representative, and has also collected all of rugby league’s top individual honours

Coventry, it seems, is where the rugby league-mad north meets the rugby union stronghold in the south – a romantic notion considering that almost 200 years ago in the nearby town of Rugby, William Webb Ellis picked up a football and ran with it to effectively invent the game of rugby union.

The codes were split in 1895, but Armstrong says any existing divide between the sports is now exaggerated.

“We are not developing a competitor, we are developing a companion,” he said.

The two sports are most closely integrated through the ‘City of Rugby’ initiative,