THE World Club Challenge matches in recent years have once again shown the gulf between league in the UK and Australia. Throw in the recent Great Britain tour of NZ and PNG too!
No sugar coating here … the truth is, the gulf is huge.
No doubt those who want to maintain an artificially positive outlook will shoot me down, say that Super League is improving every year but it’s high time someone somewhere led a major inquest into constant English failings against Australian opposition.
Great Britain last won an Ashes Series at home in 1959, and last won one at all in 1970 with a World Cup victory two years later. It’s 2020 now so we are talking over 50 years of failure. Half a century.
In terms of World Club Challenges, honours are virtually even (UK clubs 13, Aus clubs 15 (notwithstanding the stripped Storm title).
Yet peel back the surface and anyone who knows rugby league knows that these statistics only show some of the story.
Australian clubs paid lip service to the WCC concept for many years, with stories of clubs coming over in “holiday mode” for some of the early contests. Indeed, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, teams would come to England hot on the heels of winning a grand final and all the shenanigans that are linked with that.
But, in the last 12 years, English clubs have only a Leeds win in 2012 and a Wigan win in 2017 to show for their efforts. Also in the last seven years, each Australian club victory has been by a fair margin.
The World Club Series of recent years has also seen NRL clubs win three of the three games in 2015 and 2016 with English clubs winning both games in 2017.
Essentially, it seems, NRL premiers only have to get their preparation right and they are basically home and hosed.
Such a blanket statement is obviously at risk of being seen as disrespectful to the English clubs. Indeed, Wigan and St Helens were both very gallant in defeat and had the Roosters on the ropes plenty of times in 2019 and 2020.
But therein lies the problem.
The intensity of the Australian game week-in, week-out means its players are accustomed to performing under pressure.(continues below)
* Watch an NRL game and watch the teams trade sets for long periods before a try is scored as defences are firm and hard to break. In contrast, the reality in England is, the dam is burst quite often after one or two sets for one of the sides and it’s not uncommon for tries to be traded rather than sets.
After decades of failure against Australian opponents, what is the latest English response going to be?
To brush this latest set-back under the carpet as seems to be the English way in recent years?
Nope, they sacked the ENGLAND coach (even though Great Britain played, not England – what an insult to those of Ireland, Scotland and Wales rugby league).
The England side under Wayne Bennett showed that we can produce 17 men to run the Aussies close. Anyway, Shaun Wane is in now and – if it wasn’t one Wayne in charge – I definitely wanted the other one, without the Y in his name.But when is close not going to be enough?
When will it be “win”?
There are many English players in the NRL now. England’s resurgence on the back of this is no coincidence. The players’ exposure to the more intense NRL is helping them on the international stage.
We obviously need to recreate the intensity of NRL and Test matches as much as and as close as we can, for at least our top 30 or 40 players, in the UK. But, for the long term, we need to make Super League as intense as possible.
There are still many players in the Championship, League 1 and in amateur leagues who are of Super League standard, yet have slipped through the cracks of recruitment men in the game or can earn a better quid if they get paid part time for their footy and work a full time job.
There is an extremely talented young man who slipped through the whole English recruitment net recently, and is in the Brisbane Broncos NRL squad in 2020. The English clubs came up with too little and were too late. He’s as English as a sunday roast.
We all want the game in England to succeed and challenge what Australia has to offer, consistently at club and international level.
The WCC games hardly rate a mention in some media outlets in Australia and they never will until the odds of Australian victory are lengthened. And regularly.