*The full version of this article appears on the TotalRL.com news pages, available to view here*
With the demand and interest growing in international Rugby League, it's encouraging to see so much action being played out all over the world. The game is still only 12 months on from the most successful World Cup in its history, and there is plenty to be done to keep the development of the international game going.
Regular readers of League Express will have noted a new feature last week, looking at international news all across the globe. As well as the Four Nations and a hugely successful European Cup, there are tournaments springing up all over the world.
What some readers may not know is that away from the European Cup, there are also European Championship B and C tournaments, with emerging nations competing against each other in front of ever-increasing crowds.
But in terms of England and the continued development of our own talent, have we missed a trick this Autumn? The England Knights - or England A, whatever you want to call them - serve as an important makeweight between club and full international Rugby League, helping players to get a taste of internationals before making the transition to the full England squad.
They've helped produce players like Brett Ferres, Zak Hardaker and even Tom Burgess in recent years, with the system clearly doing its job in terms of readying players for the international arena.
Sure, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales were all busy this Autumn in the European Cup - but was there scope for the Knights to have participated in a programme of their own? It wouldn't need to be a major tournament; more a series of games that would have a beneficial impact for international Rugby League in general.
Take Italy, for example. They were one of the big bright spots from last year's event - most people remember them knocking England off in Salford prior to the beginning of the World Cup. They're currently playing in European Championship B alongside Serbia and Ukraine - could the Knights have played against those nations, perhaps?
There's an argument to suggest most of the games would have been walkovers for the Knights - but as Jamie Peacock rightly pointed out in this week's League Express, if the international game is to grow, then hammerings are to be expected, not feared.
If you didn't want to include the European teams, you could have even suggested playing a programme against North American teams. Everyone is fully aware of the growth of the Canadians in Rugby League - they played a game against the USA in front of over 7,000 people earlier this year. Imagine a tri-series against Canada and USA - you could have even thrown the fledgling Jamaicans into the mix, too.
Having a Knights team over in North America would have surely helped develop the sport, and get people paying into games to see some of Super League's top talent. It's all conjecture and speculation of course, but a Knights 22-man squad for a 2014 tour could have looked something like this (based on those with the full England squad):
- Jonny Lomax (St Helens)
- Kieran Dixon (Hull Kingston Rovers)
- Mason Caton-Brown (Salford Red Devils)
- Ryan Atkins (Warrington Wolves)
- Tommy Makinson (St Helens)
- Sam Powell (Wigan Warriors)
- Marc Sneyd (Hull FC)
- Tony Clubb (Wigan Warriors)
- George Williams (Wigan Warriors)
- Craig Huby (Huddersfield Giants)
- John Bateman (Wigan Warriors)
- Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook (St Helens)
- Liam Sutcliffe (Leeds Rhinos)
Interchange from: Gene Ormsby (Warrington Wolves), Greg Johnson (Salford Red Devils), Joe Keyes (London Broncos), Luke Burgess (South Sydney), Greg Richards (St Helens), Logan Tomkins (Wigan Warriors), Jordan Turner, Mark Flanagan (both St Helens).
There's other names too; Luke Gale, Kevin Brown, Tom Armstrong, Brad Singleton. They could all be playing for England in the future - whether that's next year, the year after or five years down the line.
Sure, some of these guys may choose not to tour, but the purpose of that squad is to illustrate the depth England have below the elite squad that is currently on tour. If we're looking to get these lads ready for serious international Rugby League, perhaps a Knights programme in 2014 really would have been beneficial.
After all, there's no mid-season action again in 2015, so the next time we'll see England play is against the Kiwis. Should any of these guys be called up, you can guarantee they'd have benefited from playing with the Knights.
What do we think? Could the Knights have had a programme to benefit the development of English RL?