FROM AN English perspective, the World Club Series was obviously very disappointing, but I don’t think it is a true reflection of our competition and how strong it is
People are trying to come up with reasons why we lost all three matches and don’t seem to be closing the gap on the NRL.
I think there’s probably a variety of factors. If you take our game, North Queensland were able to name their Grand Final 17 while we had a host of injuries and it was a very different team to the one that beat Wigan four months ago.
If you look a bit deeper, rugby league is the main sport in Sydney and Brisbane. It is incredibly strong and popular there, on a par with football in this country.
Over here we are still a minority sport. Our game is strong in places like West Yorkshire, but participation levels nationally aren’t very high.
That’s something we need to keep working on, but it is not going to happen overnight. There are good signs, like more southerners coming through into Super League, but it will be a while before we see the effects of that.
A big reason, I think, is the difference in our pre-season and theirs. We had the New Zealand game last year, so our club season didn’t finish until late October and then we had players involved in the Test series, which wrapped up the following month.
Most of our teams probably began pre-season in November, then there were trial matches over Christmas. The Aussies didn’t have an international series last year, so their last game was the Grand Final in early October.
They probably began pre-season in November as well and had all of December, January and February to prepare, with the NRL beginning in March.
All that time they have been working on their skills and their physical development. Our England players didn’t start pre-season until January, there was a full-scale trial game to fit in and then the first Super League games were in early February.
That doesn’t give you much time to get up to speed. The weather is another factor. The NRL clubs do pre-season in hot conditions on firm grounds.
Over here we often struggle to get onto the field because of frost or waterlogged pitches and that limits the amount of work you can do on skills.
Also, there is the salary cap. Theirs is much higher than ours, so naturally they are going to attract and retain better-quality players.
They are some of the reasons, so the question is what can we do about it?
I think it all comes down to the grassroots.
We have to get more people playing the sport.
All Super League clubs need to get into the amateur game and schools and encourage development there. A lot of clubs do a good job already, but more needs to be done. We have got some good young players in this country.
I have been coaching the under-16s at Leeds, though I’ve stepped down from that this year and I have seen how good some of our youngsters are.
There’s some coming through at the Rhinos who, if they keep working hard and learning, will go on to have a big future.
But, realistically, we don’t have the depth the Aussies do.
We play too many games and our players don’t have enough time to work on their skills and physical development.
Until that changes and we have more players to select from, we are going to continue to struggle when we come up against NRL teams.
On the plus side, last week was a really valuable learning experience for our young players like Ash Handley, Liam Sutcliffe and Jordan Lilley.
They have had first-hand experience of a top Aussie team and that is going to stand them in good stead in the future.
I AM going to have to watch from the sidelines for a few weeks, but hopefully I won’t be out long-term.
Physios never like to put a timescale on things, so I will be taking it week by week. Hopefully by next week I will be out of the protective boot, then I will be able to do some loadbearing stuff and progress from there.
I am a quick healer and my ankle is feeling better already, so I’m confident it won’t be too long before I can get back out on the field.
It is frustrating being out, especially when we have got so many injuries.
We are doing it tough at the moment, but we will come through it.
Catalans away tomorrow will be tough.
They have made some good signings, they are always strong at home and they’ve had two weeks to prepare.
We are coming off a tough, physical game and we’re missing some players, but we showed in the first half last week what we can do.
We need to build on that and if we can come up with the same effort and defensive commitment and fine tune a few things on attack, we can get the win we need to kick-start our season.