THE manager of international rugby league's leading team has hailed last month's Commonwealth Under-19 Nines Championship as hugely important for the development of the international game.
It was significant in itself that Gareth Holmes, who oversaw the Kangaroos' successful bid to reclaim the World Cup last year, took charge of the Australia team which visited Cumbernauld. Such is Australian rugby league's domestic strength that the sport's strongest nation has been accused of being insular and neglecting its responsibilities in terms of wider growth, but Holmes indicated that his presence spoke to a change of mindset.
"We're pretty spoiled in Australia with a lot of rugby league opportunities but we recognised how important this tournament was, which is why we came across to support it," he said.
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"Having a strong rugby league country like ours adds a little bit more to what we're trying to achieve. So it's an enormous thing for us to come across and be part of it.
"State of Origin [New South Wales v Queensland] is the pinnacle of our competition but what we need is nations competing and getting better. At the top end of the elite pathway you've got Australia, New Zealand and England and then there's a big void to the next group of competing nations. Tournaments like this where you can expose rugby league to other nations and engage that interest will only benefit international rugby league."
Holmes felt the commercially successful World Cup last year was a major step forward for the sport, as his side battled to re-establish Australia in what they believe is their rightful place as world leaders. New Zealand had been the holders.
However, with Australia beaten in the Commonwealth Nines final by an exuberant Papua New Guinea side, he noted that the more modest affair at Broadwood Stadium played a part in maintaining that momentum.
"To have nations compete at [the World Cup] then back it up with something like this, we're looking at a future calendar of fixtures that can only help the game," said Holmes.