After a near 12-month sabbatical, all eyes will be on international Rugby League in this country again this weekend, as England aim to create a little piece of history by dumping Australia out of the Four Nations.
Should Steve McNamara’s men win, it would be the first time since 1954 that the Australians fail to make a major international final – and it would confirm England’s spot in the final, too.
Add to that the prospect of New Zealand dueling against Samoa as well, and you have two incredibly scintillating games in prospect – of that there can be little doubt.
And whilst the opening weekend of the Four Nations was incredibly exciting, and provided us with plenty of drama, there’s a tendency in some circles to forget about everything else that is happening in the world of international Rugby League.
For instance, in the United Kingdom, there’s two games of international RL that should be sharing equally as big a spotlight, as the curtain falls down on the 2014 European Championships.
Given how France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales haven’t played any international games since their respective World Cup exits last year, all four nations should take credit for putting on a spectacular tournament. And whilst the crowds haven’t been breaking records left, right and centre, the attendances for the games we’ve seen have been very encouraging, and given hope that if the right amount of time and money is invested into the game at international level, it can be a resounding success.
Before the tournament even began, it was announced that should Ireland or Wales win the event, they would automatically gain qualification for the 2017 World Cup (Scotland and France have already qualified). That alone, along with the prospect of a place in the 2016 Four Nations, was a great move from all involved, as it helped to ramp up the hype and interest in the tournament. When the international game has taken such a flogging over the last few months, that in itself was a much needed boost.
And with three teams still able to win the European Championship heading into the last weekend, Rugby League fans everywhere should be aiming to get themselves to a game – because it will be the last chance they have to see elite international RL in this country until the Kiwis visit in 12 months time.
Sure, Galashiels may be a tad too far for some on Friday night as Scotland face France, but Scotland RL deserve to be hosting a game in their own borders, after the huge strides they are making forward as a country. A great performance at last year’s World Cup has been backed up by them winning their opening two games – a third win on Friday sees them crowned champions.
But on Sunday, Rugby League fans across the M62 corridor have an ample opportunity to take a game in, as Wales face Ireland in Wrexham. That is commutable for most RL fans in the North, and it will be a fantastic opportunity to see two fledgling nations do battle. And if Scotland lose on Friday, there’s a chance Ireland could be playing for the right to become European Champions themselves.
With the likes of Danny Brough, Joe Wardle and Eloi Pelissier committing to their nations for the event, it shows that the game is slowly progressing forward. Of course, more work needs to be done to keep international RL developing and moving on – but these are hearty steps forward.
Sure, the Four Nations is bound to be thrilling last weekend, and potentially historic, should England get the job done against the Australians. But we shouldn’t forget what a great job the teams competing in the European Championship have done – because that’s where the game really needs to be developed at international level.