As the dust settles on the Wolfhounds' gutsy and determined effort in this year's World Cup, many pundits and supporters have been left pondering whether or not foundations could be laid for a potential Irish Rugby League side to enter the British game in a few years' time.

World Cup

Before this year's tournament had begun, no one had given Ireland a chance; they, alongside the other home nations of Scotland and Wales, were largely forgotten about due to the usual hysteria that surrounded the "Big Three" of Australia, New Zealand and England. This writing off of Ireland was not a surprise; at the 2013 World Cup, they ended the group stages bottom of Group A, scoring 14 points and conceding a whopping 124.

And, even with experienced Super League players in the Wolfhounds' ranks such as Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Liam Finn, very few considered Ireland as a team to watch out for.

Yet, after narrowly losing to hosts Papua New Guinea, sandwiched in between their thrashings of Wales and Italy, the Wolfhounds had earned the respect and praise of viewers and pundits alike. And, despite the distinct lack of actual Irish nationals within the competition squad, the pride the players had in the Irish shirt was all there to see; they honoured, unlike the drunken trio representing Scotland, the country of their parents and grandparents to the same extent as the much-raved about Fijian or Tongan players honoured their ancestry.

The subsequent respect now given to Ireland as a Rugby League nation since their World Cup exit has got people thinking; is it possible for the sport to take off in Ireland itself? If so, would it then be possible for an Irish Rugby League team to come into the British game? These are questions that need to be looked at if the Irish Rugby League momentum is to continue.


If Rugby League is to take off in Ireland and, from there, a team created to enter the British game, support of the Irish people is key.

The All-Ireland Rugby League Championship - created in 1997 - is the main league in Ireland which consists of 12 teams, the most successful of which are the Limerick-based Treaty City Titans with eight titles to their name. Limerick was, in fact, the one place in Ireland where a World Cup match was held in the 2013 tournament. Although it brought in the second-lowest attendance in the tournament, just over 5,000 attended Thomond Park to see Ireland demolished by eventual winners Australia 50-0.

Ireland, however, was at this point eliminated and expected to be - and were - annihilated by the Kangaroos. 5,000 spectators, therefore, does not seem that disappointing when considering that Thomond Park is in the Rugby Union heartland of Munster.

And, the turnout seems even more impressive when compared to the lack of spectators turning up in the Rugby League hub of Sydney at the current 2017 tournament - just 10,000 turned up for the England-Lebanon game. The Irish turnout in 2013 in the Munster area does lead one to suspect that there is interest for Rugby League, hiding beneath a surface dominated by the other code; it is just a case of giving potential Rugby League supporters something to grasp onto which can coax their interest out of its current hiding place.


Despite Ireland's strong performances at the 2000 Rugby League World Cup - where they finished top of their group and lost to England by a mere ten points in the quarter-finals - financial issues saw the Wolfhounds limited to just one game in the next three years.

And, finance has been a problem ever since; indeed, in this year's World Cup, the Irish players were not paid for turning out in the green shirt and, instead, were given a measly $100 weekly allowance for participating in the competition.

The prize-money from qualifying for the knock-out rounds and winning the World Cup has also eluded the Irish in recent years. And 2017 was no different; a nation now earns $35,000 for getting out of the group stages and $300,000 for lifting the Paul Barriere Trophy.

This means that it is usually the same teams who reap the rewards. Subsequently, smaller nations - like Ireland - are excluded from the desperately-needed investment that could develop the game so much in their respective countries. A more even share of funds could have enabled Rugby League - in a nation where the Rugby Union and Football dominate - to gain a foothold in Ireland.

Finance on a club level is also somewhat sparse. The main clubs in the elite Irish league are all semi-professional with no wealthy backer in sight. As such, it would take an entrepreneur or a consortium - much like Eric Perez and Toronto - to bankroll a potentially successful Irish Rugby League team to compete in the British leagues.

In fact, Ireland's experienced half-back Liam Finn highlighted that there is already a sponsor in place for getting the ball rolling for a Dublin team to enter Championship One. But, in Finn's words, "they seem to be getting knocked back due to no room. There's all this talk of a New York club joining after Toronto, yet no signs of one from Dublin?"

Ireland does offer many attractive cities where a new club could gain a brand. Dublin, which is regarded as the most likely place for a new club, is a magnificent city with a population of a million that suitors could tap into. If someone or a group of people are willing to use their hard-earned money to create a potentially successful Irish club to compete in the British game, why should it be stopped?


A Dublin-based team could either follow the structure that Toronto Wolfpack followed in their inaugural season in Championship One or the schedule which the Wolfpack will follow in the 2018 Championship. For the former, Toronto played in blocks of four - four matches at home, then four matches away. Now though, Toronto will play 12 matches away then 12 matches at home before the Championship splits for the Qualifiers; the second option will be far less expensive with regards to air travel and accommodation costs as the Wolfpack now have a base in Manchester from which to operate during their three-month stay in England. There is no reason why a Dublin team cannot do this either.

In terms of away teams travelling to Dublin, perhaps a backer could come to some sort of arrangement with Aer Lingus - the flag-carrier airline of Ireland and the second-largest airline in the country, second only to the notoriously controversial Ryanair.

This is not a utopian idea when considering that Toronto reached a deal with Air Transat to sponsor all the accommodation and travel costs for away teams travelling to Canada. And, the bill will certainly be cheaper flying across the Irish Sea rather than across the Atlantic.

Dublin also has a sporting environment ready-made. There are numerous stadiums which could provide a home for a Rugby League side, though the 80,000+ capacity of Croke Park and the 52,000+ capacity of the Aviva Stadium are definitely too large. The 18,500 capacity RDS Arena is a possibility, but, the 6,000 capacity Donnybrook Stadium - the former home of Leinster Rugby - may seem the best route to go down; with a small capacity, it will likely be full for every home game and could, therefore, generate an exciting atmosphere like that at Toronto's 9,000 capacity Lamport Stadium.

Teams that travel to Toronto also stay at York University residences and train at the University's facilities. It is not beyond comprehension that away sides could do likewise at Ireland's largest university - the University College Dublin. Indeed, Leinster Rugby actually has their headquarters and training facility on campus, which houses the Academy, Senior Squad and Administrative arms of the Rugby Union club. Putting cross-code hostilities to one side, couldn't these facilities be extended to a travelling Rugby League side once a week?


Irish Rugby League and the RFL need to capitalise on Ireland's great showing in the World Cup and, if what Liam Finn says is correct, take advantage of the fact there is a person or a group of people willing to subsidise a Dublin experiment.

Expansion has worked in Toronto where Rugby League has had to fight against Basketball, Baseball, Ice Hockey, Football, American Football, and even Lacrosse, why can't Rugby League find a home in Dublin amongst the Rugby Union, Football and Gaelic Football? People are talking about a potential Pacific Four Nations, why not a Six Nations of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Australia and New Zealand to improve the home nations as well? Ireland's World Cup performances have planted the seeds, now, they need sowing.