Written by Zack Wilson
After the Great Britain press conference at St Helens last week, Super League issued what some might see as a surprising press release.
Bennett made comments at the press conference that suggested that Ryan Sutton had improved his chances of playing for Great Britain and England by playing for Canberra Raiders in the NRL.
A statement from Super League in response read: “Super League clubs have expressed their concern at comments made by Great Britain and England Rugby League head coach Wayne Bennett, which appear to be in conflict with one of its chief aims – to attract and retain the best players in the Super League competition.”
Robert Elstone, the CEO of Super League, added this:
“Securing and retaining the world’s best players is a priority for Super League.
“Quite rightly – and even more so now as we are nearing discussions around a new broadcast deal – it is seen by our clubs as fundamental to the future success of the competition.
“While several of our leading players have excelled in the NRL and, in all likelihood, more will want to test themselves in that environment, it does feel wrong that the coach of our national team is linking a move to the NRL so closely to the award of international honours.
‘’None of us should lose sight of the fact that it is the Super League competition that has developed these players, and that all aspects of the game on this side of the world will benefit by them staying.”
That reaction is interesting in a number of ways.
First, it shows that there is definitely a gap opening up between the way that Super League and the RFL see the game functioning.
The RFL’s focus is still on producing good national sides, whether that is England or Great Britain. That is fair enough, though there are still questions to be asked about whether they are serving the Celtic countries well enough with Great Britain returning.
Super League’s focus is on making itself as a great a competition as possible. International considerations, at least as they apply to making the England team stronger or sending a stronger Great Britain Lions squad to the southern hemisphere, are not their concern.
Super League wants all the best players in its competition, regardless of what that might mean for international rugby league.
That is an outlook that has far more in common with the NRL than the RFL.
How that shapes the future remains to be seen, but we do not want to lose our focus on developing a strong international game now.
For the first time in many, many years, rugby league looks to be developing an international game that is worthy of wider attention.
Though there are still issues to be sorted with things like player eligibility rules and having enough neutral referees, things are moving forward at last.
While Super League’s focus on retaining players is admirable as a statement of intent, the last thing we need is for it to generate more insularity.
Hopefully, what it means is that Super League will now confidently move ahead and try to raise standards and improve marketing.
Then the best players in the world, wherever they come from, might have more of an incentive to play in Super League.