Rugby League should focus on its Ashes strengths

James Roby would be a key man if a Great Britain team lined up against the Kangaroos.

James Roby would be a key man if a Great Britain team lined up against the Kangaroos.

First published in Sport
Last updated
St Helens Star: Photograph of the Author by , Senior Sports Writer

PLENTY of Owen Farrell’s contemporaries from his days in junior rugby league must look on in amazement at the England fly-half’s national prominence after England’s Six Nations win over Ireland.

Grabbing attention and headlines that his dad Andy could only dream about during his glittering league career at Wigan, Owen’s nerveless performance with the boot kept England’s Grand Slam hopes on track.

I did not see the game – it clashed with Saints’ visit to Widnes – so I won’t do the usual and say 12-6, no tries = boring rugby union.

After all, nobody among 36,895 crammed into Central Park the night Wigan beat Manly by four penalties to one would ever have described that game as dull.

No matter what the style of rugby adopted – and let’s face England have won it playing some pretty dour stuff over the years - the Six Nations retains its appeal way beyond the aficionados of the XV-man game.

The Six Nations has a tradition and history that wipes the floor with the now annual autumn visits from the southern Hemisphere.

As too does the British Lions – and it is clear the home nations players are playing for places for the summer’s tour to Australia has created even more talking points.

Rugby league fans see a great sense of injustice here and the 13-man code is always going to be up against it as it tries to build this autumn’s World Cup.

Rather than looking on in awe, despair or jealousy, rugby league needs to start looking what it did best at international level – and then go back to it.

We need a back to basics approach that invokes all the best traditions of our game at international level – specifically tours, the Ashes series and a regular World Cup.

Although it is great to see the expansion of the game across the globe and tournaments should be created and developed to harness those fledgling nations, the fans want to see Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand playing each other.

Listening to Harry Pinner being interviewed on the pitch before the Saints game against Huddersfield it was obvious how much importance he attached to his time skippering Great Britain.

Pinner wore the skipper’s armband in the drawn home series against the powerful Kiwis in 1985.

Who could ever forget Lee Crooks stepping up to kick the late penalty to draw the match and series?

That was a bruising encounter which saw a member of the West Yorkshire constabulary enter the pitch to keep order. Had there been a blood bin, GB would have been down to a sevens team.

That was against the Kiwis, the history of the Ashes has an even longer, prouder and more colourful history.

It made no sense to ditch the Ashes – the one international series we had with real value and tradition – and replace it with a wishy-washy Four Nations that simply blends into the next one.

After this year’s World Cup is over, the reformation of Great Britain needs to be top of the list closely followed by the drawing up of an international cycle that includes tours to this country from the Kangaroos and Kiwis, with the Lions going in the opposite direction in the third year and an all embracing World Cup taking place again at the end of the cycle.

Rugby league needs to get the international set-up right if it is ever to broaden its appeal to new fans and sponsors and that will have a positive effect on the domestic game in both hemispheres.

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