Rugby League in Africa – How the game can be grown in the continent with the help of current players.


With no African Nation qualifying for the Rugby League World Cup since 2000, we take a look at the state of the game in the continent, and how Leeds Rhinos captain Kruise Leeming desires to get an African Nation back to the World Cup.

Rugby in Africa is a sport that has massive potential, whilst Union has struggled to escape South Africa, Rugby League has failed to capture the imagination of any nation in the continent.

South Africa have long been one of the top sides in Rugby Union, with the Springboks currently the reigning World Champions following their success in Japan back in 2019. Namibia also have a recognised Rugby Union programme and have qualified for the last six World Cups.

Sadly for them, due to location reasons and the links between the two nations, many of Namibia’s best talents get snapped up at a young age by South Africa. There are officially 17 African countries with Rugby Union sides in the World Ranking system, but you have to go down as far as 33rd in the ranking system to find the next African side behind South Africa and Namibia.

Following their exclusion from Super Rugby, South African domestic Union sides have since gravitated to the newly formed United Rugby Championship (formerly the Pro14). However, Covid-19 has greatly hindered the switch, and it is unknown how the South African population will take to the competition.

Rugby Sevens has also seen some participation from African nations over the years, with two member nations competing yearly in the World Rugby Sevens Series. With the Sevens game a direct derivation of the Union code, perhaps it is no surprise that South Africa are one of these two nations, and are in fact the number two ranked team in the world.

A rather more surprising participant in the Sevens programme is Kenya. In just under two decades of competition, Kenya has four top-six finishes in the World Series, including third place in the most recent 2021 addition.

Despite all of this, for one reason or another, Rugby League has never taken off in the continent.

Since South Africa appeared in the 2000 tournament, they have dropped to 36th in the World Ranking. There is hope outside of South Africa though, with Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco and Nigeria all affiliate members with the RFL.

Potentially, the talent from Rugby Sevens programmes can be harnessed into progressing the fast-paced action that Rugby League brings.

Speaking to Leeds Rhinos captain and England International Kruise Leeming on the Rugby League Review Podcast about growing the game in Africa, the Rhinos man spoke about his experience touring Papua New Guinea with England Knights in 2018. 

“The tour as a whole was fantastic, the lads were brilliant. I found it very easy to get along with everyone, which is great as you make friends for life. The whole experience of Papua New Guinea and the love of the sport they have is refreshing, which is really humbling to see and it is something you won’t be able to relive again. It did remind me of being back at home in Swaziland in some respect. I would love to see Rugby League being played over there”.

Born in Eswatini, Leeming moved to England as a young child and grew up in Halifax, where his passion for Rugby League would be found. But he dreams one day his home country could have their own team in a Rugby League World Cup.

“I would love to go over there one offseason and start the ball rolling of Rugby League in Africa. What a fantastic thing to do, the big sports are the ones that are played worldwide and that is how you gain the attraction of more players more exposure and more money in the game. It could only be better for the sport.

I would love to start a programme, it is one of those things where I wouldn’t know where to start, but I would love to do it. The thought of starting something like that would be massive for Rugby League, and to eventually get an African side in a World Cup, wow that would be unbelievable.

It is clear that Kruise has the vision and passion for developing the game in the continent. He admitted he would like to start a programme whilst he is still playing the sport.

“I ould do it during one offseason a six-week programme, I don’t know if that would be enough time. But I am sure if we dug a little deeper we could find someone with the expertise to help out. Getting the ball rolling is the most important thing, it might take five years or two years, but I can guarantee there are some athletes in Africa that just need a chance to showcase what they have got.

With Jermaine Coleman’s Jamaica side making their debut in the World Cup later this year, there is a possibility that players with heritage from any particular African country may be enough to get the ball rolling and get a strong enough side to qualify.

However, the main goal will of course be to bring the sport to the African people and hopefully build a future for it in the continent.

There is no doubt there is plenty of sporting talent in the continent, and if that can be harnessed and backed then there is no saying where the sport can go.

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