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Kenya Rugby League Dreams Big

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The Kenya Rugby League (KRL) is already dreaming of taking a team to the 2025 Rugby League World Cup, a month after the first tournament was played in Nairobi.

KRL chairman Richard Nyakwaka said plans were underway for an international test match series against South Africa and Spain in September this year in Nairobi, before the novel coronavirus interrupted the schedule.

Nyakwaka noted that it’s not too early to face continental powerhouse South Africa, who last took part at the Rugby League World Cup in 2000, if they really want to achieve their target.

Rugby league is a full-contact sport played by two teams of 13 players on a rectangular field measuring 68m wide and 112-122 m long. However, the rugby union has two teams of 15 each, while the pitch measures 100m long and 69m wide.

Rugby league has no mauls, rucks and lineouts, while scrums are not contested. So basically, it’s a faster code of play unlike in rugby union.

Australia has dominated the Rugby League World Cup winning 12 out of the 16 editions of the event with Great Britain winning three, including the inaugural 1954 championship hosted by France.

New Zealand won the other event in 2008, halting Australia, who won six consecutive editions. The Aussies triumphed in the last edition of the World Cup that they co-hosted with New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in 2017.

England are scheduled to host the 2021 Rugby League World Cup. Rugby League in Africa dates back to as early as the 1950s when South Africa organised matches against Great Britain and France.

The sport has seen activity in Burundi, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Morocco, Congo, Ghana and Ethiopia. Just like Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Zimbabwe are new to the sport.

Nyakwaka said the inaugural Nairobi 9s held in February this year with nine clubs taking part proved a great success, giving them hope that with proper planning, the game is set to grow in leaps and bounds.

KRL that was to start in April, featuring eight teams will be different so as to make it suitable. The league matches will be played at one venue and one day, featuring four matches.

The fixtures will take place twice a month in view of saving the resources. Nyakwaka said they will have venues spread across the country in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kakamega, Meru, Nakuru, Watamu and Kitengela, among other areas.

Some of the clubs that have embraced rugby league locally are Winam in Kisumu, Rift Valley Ruffians, Nkubu in Nakuru, Meru, Kitengela Wolves, Nairobi Rhinos, Nairobi Touch Rugby and Thika Road Club.

“Spreading the game across will help to develop the interest by creating a “thick” market for everyone. It will also be easier for sponsors and for media coverage with matches being played at a central place,” noted Nyakwaka, adding that they will also introduce a ladies league and age grade program for schools.

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Nyakwaka said the response has been great so far and the fan base is building up and further noted that its popularity will definitely increase in years to come.

“Of course like any new venture, there are challenges with resources, but we have been overwhelmed by the interest of young rugby players who want to join rugby league,” explained Nyakwaka.

“We have progressed talks with potential sponsors, who were coming through, but corona has stalled everything.”

One thing that KRL want to do, Nyakwaka said is to lobby for the continuous talent development for age grade with students playing the sport throughout the year.

But how has KRL managed to form clubs with ease in a short time?

Nyakwaka said there are more players but less clubs at the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) and that others have been struggling to get position in top clubs.

“Most of them are crossing and more so, we are targeting secondary school leavers,” said Nyakwaka, adding that they are in talks with KRU officials about cross code playing, and everyone seems to agree with it.