The pinnacle of many of the top sports around the world is their international game. Football has the World Cup and then many continent competitions e.g. European Championships and Copa America. Cricket is dominated by the international game with England, Australia, South Africa and India selling out Test series months in advance. The Rugby Union World Cup Final is due to take place this weekend as New Zealand take on Australia in front of a sold out Twickenham stadium.
Then we look at the international game in Rugby League, yes we have a test series for England against the best side in the world New Zealand but this actually came as a disappointment as rumours around the game had been of a Great Britain reunion to go down under and take on the Aussies in a test series. But instead of the first GB tour since the tri-nations 2006 and their first fixture since the 2007 All Golds series against New Zealand, the reigning world champions decided to take a year out of the season ending internationals. Their only game was the mid-season test was defeat to New Zealand in the ANZAC Test.
In what other sport would you see the reigning world champions take a year out of the sport? The problem is the RLIF do not really have overall control of the international game, not like FIFA, ICC and IRB. Therefore when it comes to situations like this they cannot intervene and until that situation is solved the international game in Rugby League will never be able to compete and stop the drain of players leaving the game. Sam Burgess, Sonny Bill Williams and Israel Folau to Rugby Union. Folau via Aussie Rules. Jarred Hayne also left the sport and is now playing NFL for San Fransisco 49’ers. The sport needs to look at why these players are leaving the game. Burgess and SBW have gone to challenge themselves on a world class international stage.
Whether the international game is a world class stage in Rugby League has got to be debated especially with the result of the third side in the world taking on the fifth side in the world. England 84-4 France. That result has taken much criticism within the game especially on social media with many fans thinking what was the point, surely a training session would have been more of a warm up or a game against the “England Knights” would have been better. The French had up to 7 players missing through injury but whether that made that much difference will never be known.
England have tried many different ideas as a warm up to taking on Australia and New Zealand. The Exiles, France and Cumbria have all been opposition in the past few years but the problem is England are a lonely third in the world rankings. Struggling to compete with the top two and too good for the rest of the world. The recent challenge match between Leeds and New Zealand might have sparked an idea. The national side v club side hasn’t been an exploited idea in the last few years but was an idea that really took hold of the Rhinos fans which seen 20,158 people pack into headingley.
Could England v Leeds, St Helens, Wigan provide the opposition that they need or on international tours the likes of South Sydney, North Queensland and the other sides in the NRL provide the high class warm up fixtures. That is up for the powers to decide but the whole international game has to be shaken up if we are to improve the spectacle for players, fans and media. The media must have a big place to play as well, the BBC had the rights to show the England V France fixture but decided against it. The fixture didn’t get much mainstream coverage at all in any mainstream media and with the lack of success in England’s Rugby Union World Cup campaign, this was the time to stand up and let our game be counted and we were let down.
There is people with a lot more influence in the game that need to make these decisions but you would feel that these decisions need to be made sooner rather than later for the international game to grow into the pinnacle of our sport.