England have never had a better opportunity to defeat Australia than at this month’s Four Nations – and doing so could lead to a Great Britain revival.
To say it has been a long time between drinks is an understatement. The last time Great Britain won the Ashes was in 1970, with a 2-1 series win down under. They also took out the World Cup in 1972.
But since then it’s been very bleak. There was a Test win in 1978, another in 1988, one in 1990, one in 1992 and in 2001. But no series wins.
Since 2002, when the Aussies spanked Great Britain 64-10 in Sydney, the gap between the two has widened significantly.
There have been slip-ups by the Kangaroos, most notably in the 2005 Tri-Nations final, the 2008 World Cup final and the 2010 Tri-Nations final, but they have all been at the hands of New Zealand.
Apart from one upset win in 2006 Great Britain, or England, have barely fired a shot in anger at the green and gold.
And in many ways they have slipped well behind the Kiwis as the third-ranked team in the world.
New Zealand have more players in the NRL and Rugby League has grown rapidly in the land of the Long White Cloud of late.
This was reflected at last year’s World Cup when England pushed New Zealand all the way but ultimately crumbled in the last seconds of that gripping semi-final at Wembley.
The Kangaroos went on to brush aside the Kiwis with ease at Old Trafford.
But this year’s Four Nations provides England with an opportunity.
They must head down under and show the Aussies and Kiwis they mean business – that they aren’t pushovers and are up to the challenge.
While Sam Burgess is a big loss they can still call on the likes of James Graham, George Burgess, Tom Burgess, Gareth Widdop and Mike Cooper from the NRL, who have all had great seasons in Australia.
Add in the likes of Sean O’Loughlin, Daryl Clark, Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson, Sam Tomkins and Elliott Whitehead and England have the chance to do something special.
In contrast, the Kangaroos are going to be missing a tonne of first-choice players. While they do boast tremendous depth, Australia will be without Billy Slater, Paul Gallen, Nate Myles, Luke Lewis, Andrew Fifita, Brent Tate, Darius Boyd, Brett Morris, Josh Morris, Matt Gillett and Justin Hodges, along with Josh Dugan, Trent Merrin and Will Hopoate.
This leaves them a tad vulnerable. Coach Tim Sheens will blood some new players who, while talented, will be very inexperienced in the Test arena.
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England and Steve McNamara need to make the most of this opportunity. Finishing second above New Zealand is a must in this Four Nations and winning the whole thing is not impossible.
It would be a shock down under but it’s what the international game needs: a kick to the guts.
Defeating the Kangaroos would earn England respect and make Test Rugby League much more exciting and attractive once again.
They might not be in the position to face a weakened Aussie side like this, without a full 13 regulars or more, for a long, long time.
The time is now. Over to you, boys.