Aussies lack respect for the game in England – Peter Smith

IT’S A shame, but no surprise, this autumn’s Ashes series has been cancelled.
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Extending the Betfred Super League season into at least November, when the second and third Tests were due to be played, would have posed big logistical obstacles and once Australia’s NRL was suspended, in March, there was little chance of the tour going ahead.

The NRL will complete a shortened season this year, but State of Origin has been put back to October and November and that was a fatal blow to the Tests. The sad truth is, State of Origin is rated much more highly in Australia than Test rugby.

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The fact the Aussies have been so dominant for so long – on July 4 it will be 50 years since Great Britain or England last won the Ashes – hasn’t helped, but there is genuine competition now.

George Williams, left. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA Wire.George Williams, left. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA Wire.
George Williams, left. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA Wire.

Great Britain’s last victory over Australia was 14 years ago and England haven’t managed it yet, but New Zealand can beat them on their day and Tonga pulled off one of the sport’s great upsets last autumn when they defeated the Kangaroos for the first time. But State of Origin remains the pinnacle and the Aussies view Super League as very much a second-rate competition.

That lack of respect was evident last weekend when the NRL resumed and an Englishman stole the show.

George Williams’ performance for Canberra Raiders in their 22-6 win at Melbourne Storm had Aussie commentators and pundits drooling.

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Brad Fittler, capped 38 times by Australia, described it as “flawless”, for example.

England head coach Shaun Wane. Picture: PA.England head coach Shaun Wane. Picture: PA.
England head coach Shaun Wane. Picture: PA.

Williams set up a couple of tries and put on some big hits in his third appearance for Raiders, to become an overnight sensation.

Except, the 25 year-old has already played 10 times for England and once for Great Britain, made 179 appearances during a seven-year Wigan Warriors career and is a four-time Super League Grand Finalist.

His former Wigan coach Shaun Wane was asked about Williams’ performance during a media briefing this week.

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“I watched it twice,” he said. “I thought the Aussies went over the top, they were raving about him.

Danny Buderus. Picture: Steve Riding.Danny Buderus. Picture: Steve Riding.
Danny Buderus. Picture: Steve Riding.

“I’ve seen him do those things hundreds of times, he does it in Super League and it doesn’t seem to be recognised. He did some good things, but he can have more involvements.”

Wane added: “We have a great comp’, they [players] don’t need to go over there to improve.

“If George had delivered that for me at Wigan, I’d have been into him and I’m sure other Super League coaches may have been the same. He did well, no question; I’m a big George Williams fan, but he needs to improve.”

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Wane may have been over-egging it a bit, but he is right. Williams has been an exciting talent for a number of years and nothing he did last week will have shocked English viewers.

Aussie players who come to Super League expecting it to be easy often come a cropper.

Mark Carroll, a prop who played 12 times for Australia, was scathing about “northern softies” when he signed for London Broncos in 1998.

Adrian Morley made him eat his words during a fiery 15-14 win for Leeds Rhinos at the Stoop and lasted one season before homesickness forced a return home.

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Many Australian imports, though, enjoy their stay. Another Test star, Danny Buderus, last week spoke in glowing terms about the northern-hemisphere game and his time at Leeds.

Now general manager at Newcastle Knights he is keen to develop links with a Super League club.

Nobody doubts the NRL is a stronger competition, with a deeper player base, but its insularity does nothing to help grow the game. All that said, the NRL know how to put on a show and deserve plaudits for the way the post-Covid-19 restart has been managed.

Crowd effects and tight camera angles made for a good television spectacle and placing cardboard cutouts of fans – who paid 22 dollars for the honour – in the stands was a nice idea.

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Super League will need to think carefully before repeating that initiative though, after ‘Dominic Cummings’ (funny) and ‘Harold Shipman’ (not funny) were both spotted at last week’s matches.

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