Prince Harry praised for 'brilliant' role in Rugby League World Cup draw

Prince Harry's longterm future with the royal family may be unresolved, but rugby league greats have hailed him for raising the profile of the sport's World Cup.

The Duke of Sussex – currently in talks over his and wife Meghan's desire to transition from their roles as senior royals– took time out to officiate in the 2021 Rugby League Cup draw at Buckingham Palace on Thursday (Friday NZT).

Prince Harry, the English Rugby Football League's patron, stood alongside "two sporting legends", dual England rugby union and rugby league star Jason Robinson and Olympic rowing champion turned UK Sport chairwoman Dame  Katherine Grainger as the draw was made.

Robinson, who played for Great Britain in the 1995 Rugby League World Cup final and scored a try in England's 2003 Rugby Union World Cup victory, told The Times that Prince Harry's involvement in the draw was "brilliant".

"I've done quite a few things with him over the years. Anything that I have ever seen Prince Harry involved in, he has been amazing. . . . To have somebody like him to do this draw, at Buckingham Palace, it just does not get any better."

Robinson, an official Rugby League World Cup ambassador, said: "What happens between [Prince Harry] and his good wife is nothing at all to do with me".

"What's great about this is that it does not matter what is going on in the background, wherever he goes he still delivers. He is very respectful, very warm, very endearing. This draw would not have been the same had he not committed to it. We are very grateful for his time."

While Prince Harry's continued involvement with the English RFL is still uncertain, Robinson is convinced he will continue to go "all over the world; inspiring, caring, looking after people".

English Rugby Football League rugby director Kevin Sinfield – a former international – also praised Prince Harry's commitment to the World Cup draw.

"To have him there, front and centre in Buckingham Palace, was huge for the sport," Sinfield told reporters. "His involvement in our sport has been fantastic and he's been engaging and enthusiastic." 

Prince Harry told his Buckingham Palace guests: "First of all it's an honour to be standing next to two sporting legends. From my perspective, from the experience I have had through my younger years, but also through Invictus and all the sporting events I am lucky enough to go to or watch…the input it has on young people and the community as a whole is remarkable.

"Not only do I continue to see sport changing lives, but it's saving lives as well. Whether it's rugby league or sport in general – everyone, given the opportunity, it needs to be in everyone's life'.

The prince's involvement in the draw was positively portrayed in the English media, with The Guardian's rugby league correspondent Aaron Bower noting: "If someone had suggested 20 years ago that a World Cup draw would be conducted by a royal at Buckingham Palace they would have been ridiculed. This day of firsts shows there is something to be excited about looking ahead."

Prince Harry had earlier underscored his regard for rugby league prior to the World Cup draw during a video supporting the tournament organisers' introduction of a mental health charter for players in the men's, women's and wheelchair World Cups.

"Rugby league isn't just a sport, it's a community. And one that takes care of its own," the Duke of Sussex said.