SATURDAY’S England versus the Combined Nations All Stars was a frustrating watch – a game in which sadly the ticks in the credit column seemed to be outweighed by the negative points accumulated before, during and after the game.

Unfortunately, the solution is not as simple as saying, “We must do X next time” and all will be cured as it feels like this game, like countless of the well intentioned representative fixtures that have gone before it, gets caught in the crossfire of club v country.

It seems that rugby league in England is forever walking on the eggshells of compromise, meaning it is continually dishing up a souffle that invariably fails to rise to the occasion.

The game, we are told, was necessary in order to give Shaun Wane’s side a blast out ahead of the autumn’s World Cup - but that argument loses some of its pull when the side lining up probably bears little resemblance to the one that will open the tournament in Newcastle in October.

Apart from the NRL-based players there were several injury withdrawals from both teams in the run up to Saturday’s game.

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Now the England boss can only grin and bear it, and list the positives of it allowing other players, like for example Jake Wardle and Joe Batchelor, an opportunity to showcase their talents.

But whether harsh judges or not, supporters looked down the team sheet and were not convinced that this is a real international.

And by the looks of it there were a significant number of ‘late withdrawals’ at the Halliwell Jones Stadium as seating areas went from being ‘close to a sell-out’ on Friday to plenty of empty spaces when the TV cameras swept across on Saturday evening.

It was not a good look for the game.

You do wonder whether there is a vicious circle here. Would players be more willing to play with that niggle if the experience and atmosphere was more akin to a full-blown international or Origin game?

The organisers did listen to some criticisms from last year – specifically having the game as a standalone fixture with it being a blank Super League/Championship weekend.

But even that move created more disquiet with fans bemused by the lack of rugby.

Although the players not on duty probably enjoyed the mid-season break – there is no such thing as a free lunch and the price of this blank date will be paid back with interest with the August Bank Holiday double fixture.

So what do we do?

We need to start with the fixture itself. On paper the chance to see Super League’s best international players testing England sounds as close as you can get to an international against the southern hemisphere.

But when that does not materialise – or we are left delaying teams by a couple of hours due to withdrawals – we are left with just a gimmick.

And that unpicks one of the main, non-playing reasons for having international rugby league – to showcase the sport to a wider audience.

Nobody can, hand-on-heart, say that the image we broadcast on Saturday was the best advert for our sport.

So what do we do?

Let’s be realistic about mid-season internationals. The lessons we learnt from 2002 when GB flew to Australia for a one-off test is that we are not going have a match between England and a Southern Hemisphere team in the middle of a year.

So that leaves us with France and Wales.

France are clearly the stronger of the two nations  – and have a team that will push England - and they will get stronger the more they play together.

It seems an absolute no-brainer but we need to go back to playing France every year, but should do waht we can to get Wales back up there maybe with fixtures against the Knights.

We could do that with a mid-season game and an end of year match, home and away.

Secondly, let’s be a bit more adventurous with the venue choice and ticketing.

With the best will in the world, playing at Warrington for the second year running may have seemed a safe bet, but even throwing in a handful of players from the out-of-form Wolves did not pack them in.

There was no sense of occasion attached to it.

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Maybe we should put the hosting of the match out to tender among areas that we feel ripe for development – so let Bristol, Newcastle, Coventry and Sheffield bid for the hosting and give them a free hand to get as many new people watching the game.

But that is very much a peripheral issue as you do get the feeling that this level of international game suffers because of a lack of an overall long-term plan and a complete absence of respect.

Rugby league had something special when it had Ashes series and Kangaroo and Kiwi tours.

The synchronisation of the seasons north and south meant that we lost the tours, but to ditch the Ashes was unforgiveable.

Obviously Covid has had an effect, but it feels like an age since we have had a serious long-term international calendar.

Hopefully this autumn’s World Cup can rekindle some of that enthusiasm – which makes it all the more important that performances on the pitch are backed up by good crowds off it.

It should not have to be this way, but it feels like we have to really sell the international competition to the Aussies – to look beyond the NRL and Origin - for the good of the whole game.