James Graham has implored rugby league officials not to put this year’s World Cup in the too-hard basket, warning even postponing it could have dire implications.
The fate of the end-of-season tournament hangs in the balance, as England continues its road map of the COVID-19 lockdown amid vaccinations and a drop in cases.
Virtually no international men’s rugby league has been played since the start of the pandemic.
This year’s mid-season Pacific Tests have also disappeared off the calendar with little explanation, frustrating sides given players are already in Australia.
Graham warned that after the revolution of Pacific rugby league at the 2017 World Cup, the game risked stagnating if this year’s tournament didn’t go ahead.
“It shouldn’t just be crossed off so quickly and just put in that too hard basket,” Graham told AAP.
“We have to fight for this. The international game should be the pinnacle of our sport. The general all-round health of the game can benefit by this World Cup.
“A major tournament held in England post-COVID. It could put our game front and centre on the big stage.
“There is so much good that can come of it. So I just hope the powers to be are doing everything to tick it off.”
The former Canterbury and St George Illawarra forward remains England’s most-capped player at a World Cup, and maintains players have always wanted to play more international football.
While the situation is expected to have improved dramatically in host nation England by October, the greatest challenge is likely to involve Australia’s borders.
As things stand, there is no end in sight to the two-week quarantine window for returning travellers.
That would potentially put a huge financial burden on international federations to pay for their NRL players and staff, which in many cases would be unaffordable.
One idea could be to push the tournament back a year, however there are questions over what support that would have in England.
“I understand (those calls),” Graham said.
“But then we would be going head-to-head with the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. We’re not a sport who can afford to do that.
“If this World Cup can happen this year, then it should.”
Instead Graham called on the NRL to begin talks with governments on quarantine facilities, noting that sporting sides have been able to quarantine and train together.
“I appreciate (the tournament) wouldn’t be without difficulty,” Graham said.
“But I think it’s worth turning every stone and doing everything we can.
“Speaking to government and getting those important people on board to help this tournament go ahead.”