If there’s one thing you can guarantee will spark a debate in rugby league, it’s the announcement of an international squad – and this week’s England squad certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard.
The debate about eligibility has reared its ugly head again with the selection of Australian-born duo Chris McQueen and Chris Heighington – and it’s not hard to see why.
England team manager Jamie Peacock spoke this week and insisted that the rules are there to be played with. In that regard, he’s absolutely right.
Look, I’m sure most people would love nothing more than a purist approach to international sport. The best of one country against the best of another: but unfortunately, the world has moved on, at least when it comes to international sport. To play devil’s advocate for just a split-second; if Gdansk-born Mikolaj Oledzki fulfils his potential and becomes the player many expect him to be, will there be an uproar if/when he’s selected for England?
It’s been a bit of a running joke over the last decade to chastise English national sides for their policy of picking foreign-born players – think Kevin Pietersen, Dylan Hartley and many more – but the truth is that it happens all across the world in a whole myriad of sports: including rugby league.
You only need to mutter the words ‘Semi Radradra’ to realise that the world champions have even been at it of late. International sport has changed, and in that regard, Peacock’s comments about England having to try anything they can to keep up with the best is not too controversial for me.
You either stick with your morals and finish third, or exploit the rules that are there to be exploited and maybe, just maybe, give yourself a chance of winning something.
But unfortunately there’s a catch. When it comes to this particular selection of McQueen and Heighington, is this merely a case of picking heritage players for the sake of it? It feels like it could well be – especially when you could argue there are good, in-form Englishmen being left at home at the expense of what Bennett has selected to play Samoa next month.
That isn’t to say either of these two are poor players: clearly they are not. But you do wonder if, when you see players like Liam Farrell – who has been magnificent this season, and a real leader amongst a horrific injury crisis for Wigan – missing out, whether the right decisions have been made here. I’m not sure McQueen or Heighington are massive improvements on what we have – and if that is the case, then it makes their selections flawed.
Is the coach watching enough Super League? That was a question which was frequently asked when his appointment was confirmed at the start of last season: is it enough to simply say his assistants are doing that for him? This squad has provided more questions for fans than answers – six months away from a World Cup, that’s a worrying state of affairs to be in.
The looseness of the eligibility rules in international rugby league these days means this kind of thing could worryingly become the norm. England have a responsibility to ensure that they are not just abusing the rules for the sake of it – because when you’re overlooking good, in-form English players, that’s when you’ve got a bit of a problem.