Combined clashes and World Cup worries

15 Jun 22, 7:02PM 0 Comments

Written by John Davidson

Photo by Getty Images

The rescheduled 2021 World Cup takes place in just four months in England.

This week an international rep round is taking place, to help nations get ready for the tournament. But once again, politics, self-interest and organisation have hurt its credibility.

On Monday the Combined Nations All Stars team was announced by coach Ellery Hanley. However, surprisingly the likes of Bevan French, Mitchell Pearce, Ricky Leutele and several others were left out.

Last year the same thing happened when several Super League clubs decided against releasing their players for the All Stars game against England at Warrington. Thirty or more players were made unavailable to Tim Sheens.

This year it was organised so that the fixture came on a standalone weekend. There is no Super League games competing with it. But again big names are missing from the game, reportedly 16 players in total, and again it has descended into somewhat of a farce.

This writer has tried to find out the full picture. Apparently Hanley didn’t want to pick French, despite his obvious talent, while Jai Field has a slight injury concern. Pearce also picked up a slight hamstring strain against Hull FC, while Tui Lolohea also is dealing with a hamstring complaint.

Injuries are part and parcel of a rugby league. It’s a brutal sport and it’s very rare that players are 100% fit when they take the field. It’s a given that injuries will affect selection.

But why have so many other good players been left out or made unavailable? England need this game because they need to get games under their belt. They need the preparation time and to improve as a unit.

They have played twice since the end of 2018, mainly because of Covid. The sport of rugby league needs the hosts to perform well at their own World Cup. But there is a huge question mark over England heading into this tournament.

They were beaten by Sheens’ All Stars last year and were anything but convincing against France. And just take a look at the selections made by coach Shaun Wane this week. Five players from Warrington? Michael McIllorum? It was surprising to say the least.

Selections are of course an individual thing. It is a coach’s prerogative. But they live and die by the results, and by the team’s they pick. And good club form should surely be a prerequisite for representative selection. Plenty of players selected for either side this Saturday are not in great form in 2022.

International rugby league often struggles for attention, struggles for a regular presence and to make money at times. It needs greater credibility, to attract sponsors and broadcasters, and these kinds of situations do little to help their cause or value.

Club vs country battles have been going on for decades. But if we want the international game to really grow and prosper, we need less self-interest from clubs and individuals. If we want people to go to the games and watch on TV, we need to make it compelling and credible. Fans and viewers can smell when something is not right, when something does not fully live up to the billing.

As one supporter quipped to me on social media: “Are the selectors watching last season’s games?’. One involved party described the situation as “demoralising”.

Once again, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to act seriously. Far too often rugby league itself is its own worst enemy.

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