Dave Craven: Radical thinking could end years of heartache for England

England's Alex Walmsley is tackled during the Rugby League World Cup final between Australia and England at the Suncorp Stadium. Picture: Tertius Pickard/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ
England's Alex Walmsley is tackled during the Rugby League World Cup final between Australia and England at the Suncorp Stadium. Picture: Tertius Pickard/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ
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IT WOULD probably be impossible to enforce, and even the suggestion will badly irritate Super League, but is it time for all England internationals to play their club football in the NRL?

It might seem a ludicrous idea, insisting the country’s elite stars all disappear to ply their trade in Australia and New Zealand.

However, surely it must be considered as a potential solution as this morning, yet again, we are searching for answers to one of the sport’s longest-running conundrums: how do England become the best in the world?

They were superb on Saturday in so many aspects of an epic World Cup final, not least their stamina – it was the jaded champions Australia who looked ready to collapse in the last throes – and ability to march downfield so impressively.

Nevertheless, for all their lung-busting effort and endeavour, and bashing the bounce out of the Kangaroos, Wayne Bennett’s side eventually still lost 6-0.

What most people would agree with is that it was their composure when attacking in the final third that really let them down, whether with a misdirected pass, soft knock-on or a benign kick that did nothing to apply further pressure on a stretched home side.

Yet it had been a nagging problem throughout the tournament and, so, it was no surprise to see it rear its ugly head once more and, ultimately this time, kill their dreams.

How can you make them more clinical in those crucial moments?

It is not something Bennett, even as the world’s greatest coach, can truly instil in his limited time with the squad.

It has to be through consistently playing with and against the best in the world. They can’t get that in Super League. It simply isn’t competitive enough.

SOLID LINE: England's Samuel Burgess attacks during the Rugby League World Cup final against Australia. Picture: Tertius Pickard/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

SOLID LINE: England's Samuel Burgess attacks during the Rugby League World Cup final against Australia. Picture: Tertius Pickard/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

And neither can they rely on international football. There isn’t enough of it. Through no fault of their own, England only played one Test match all year before this World Cup started.

As brilliant as this World Cup has been – and it has – and as much as it has shown there is an appetite for international rugby league, extra games against Australia aren’t just going to magically appear in the calendar.

Those heroic players who performed so admirably on Saturday won’t get chance to face the Kangaroos again until 2019 and that will be as Great Britain.

The only way to truly improve as players is to expose themselves to the weekly challenges of the NRL.

The English game is running out of ways to find those marginal gains required to conquer the world’s best and so this needs to be considered.

The YP’s Dave Craven

Castleford’s Luke Gale’s kicking was excellent in the first half but, tellingly, a few chances went begging in that second period. Wouldn’t that aspect of his game – indeed, all aspects of his game – rise a level playing in Australia every week?

Seven of England’s World Cup 24-man squad operate in the NRL and, with its salary cap raised to more than £5m next season, that competition has the ability to hand English players massive pay rises.

Because of that, the migration to the NRL might occur naturally in years to come, but maybe, for England’s leading 20 players or so, they should be actively encouraged by the powers-that-be here to make that move.

As always, the burning question remains – do we really want an international Test team to enjoy success?

If so, the English game is running out of ways to find those marginal gains required to conquer the world’s best and so this needs to be considered.

Even then, the Aussies still have State of Origin to further hone their talents, something the English game has long abandoned trying to replicate.

England's Kallum Watkins. Picture: Tertius Pickard/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

England's Kallum Watkins. Picture: Tertius Pickard/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

England’s Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, John Bateman – not necessarily as a centre – and Alex Walmsley would all comfortably secure an NRL deal.

Apparently, Wigan Warriors’ George Williams, Warrington’s Ben Currie, Castleford second-row Mike McMeeken and St Helens full-back Jonny Lomax – all in this England squad – have all had NRL interest recently before signing new deals with their Super League clubs.

Admittedly, this argument will not stand-up in the eyes of some people.

For instance, it was two NRL players who came up with costly errors at the end, Tom Burgess twice cheaply coughing up the ball in good attacking position and Gareth Widdop making a horrible pass into touch to waste another golden opportunity.

Furthermore, the likes of Huddersfield’s McGillvary, Warrington’s Chris Hill and Wigan’s Sean O’Loughlin have all excelled without any NRL input.

But all the England players who have ventured Down Under previously have insisted their game has improved as a result.

So often England have missed out to their old rivals by just the merest of margins and that goes back to the 1995 World Cup final and, before that, as Great Britain in 1992. There’s too many near misses to mention.

This could help make that vital change. It would be in direct contrast to England rugby union’s policy of not selecting players who play their club rugby in France but, in fairness, that has always been frankly absurd anyway. So, let’s use the NRL as a finishing school for England’s elite. Then they may have a better chance of finishing off Australia and finally finishing with the rewards they truly deserve.

Australia celebrate after winning the Rugby League World Cup final against England at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. Picture: Tertius Pickard/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

Australia celebrate after winning the Rugby League World Cup final against England at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. Picture: Tertius Pickard/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

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