The Leeds Rhinos winger tries to diagnose Rugby League’s problems at international level.
When it comes to trying to figure out why Rugby League struggles at international level, there are a lot of different theories going around.
However, most people seem to blame the domestic schedule and insist we play too many games. Personally, I don’t think it has anything to do with that. I have never felt any fatigue coming towards the back end of the year, even when I’ve played every game of the season. A couple of years ago, Kevin Sinfield and I had played all 41 of Leeds’ games in the year and every international too. I think it is a cop-out when people start saying things like that.
There is no doubting it affects your pre-season, though, and I’m a prime example this year. I didn’t get a full pre-season because of the Four Nations and I’ve made a slow start.
You can’t have everything, though, and playing for your country is a massive honour and privilege so I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that.
It’s just one of those things – there are only 52 weeks in the year and something has to give. If you ask me, we don’t need fewer games, we need a tighter competition. That’s what is going to improve the national side.
I also believe we should consider gradually reducing the overseas quota in the domestic game. It would be wrong to say no overseas players as they definitely bring a lot of quality to the league, but over time we should see a steady decrease. In theory, that should see more English talent being given a chance and the national side becoming stronger.
Currently the quota in Super League is five, and I feel it would make sense to reduce it by one every two years. Over time it should show progress and encourage the English lads to come through.
I feel the barriers that were preventing England from competing at the highest level have been breaking down since 2010 when Steve McNamara took over. He introduced the training camps, which were not going to work overnight, but are certainly making a difference. We have definitely improved since they were put in place. In 2011, we got to the Four Nations final and in 2013 we were 20 seconds away from the World Cup final.
Last year, we should have been in the Four Nations final again and would have been had it not been for my disallowed try – which I still maintain I scored!
I think we were the best side at the Four Nations last year. When people look back on it they judge us purely on the results, which I think is wrong. If you don’t win there is usually an uproar and widespread calls for change. But I don’t think we need that. We should stick as we are and results will come.
Steve has set things up properly and I don’t feel a big win is far away. As soon as we beat Australia again, I think the landscape will change and we will get a lot more results like that.
I don’t think we should be making an effort to get the Australians excited about playing us. Why should we? Why should they dictate the strength of our sport? If they don’t want to play us, that’s fine. The Kiwis do and that’s why we’ve got our series lined up this Autumn.
I think we have missed a trick by not playing as Great Britain against New Zealand. In rugby union, they make a great spectacle of their Lions tours and I think it would have worked perfectly for this year’s series.
I know there are a lot of players – myself included – who would love to represent Great Britain. I never have – it was taken away before I got on the scene – but it’s something I would love to do. There is so much history and prestige behind it and I would love to be part of it.
In terms of how it would affect the home nations, I think it depends on what their schedule is at a particular time. If they have an international tournament like they did last year, bringing back Great Britain could definitely devalue their competition as GB would have their pick of the players.
But currently, and with the greatest respect, there aren’t too many players who would be coming in from that group so I don’t think it would make a massive difference. It’s quite relaxed anyway as most of those who play for the home nations either already qualify or could qualify for England. Kyle Amor is a great example – he has played for Ireland but was in the England train-on squad last year.
I think the home nations do really well. Clearly England is the driving force, and players ultimately want to play for them, so I think they do well to get players up for those games.
FOUR IS ENOUGH
There have been calls to open the Four Nations up to six teams, but I do not think the time is right for that. Indeed, I feel it could do more harm than good right now. There is definitely scope to do it in the future but I think there needs to be credible opposition out there. The home nations are coming on leaps and bounds but I still think it will take a couple of years to get them consistently challenging the big three teams.
I was really encouraged by the presence of Samoa at last year’s Four Nations, as I’m sure many of you were.
They played superbly throughout and seemed to be everyone’s second favourite team. I am very much looking forward to seeing how Scotland do in 2016 now the Samoans have set the bar so high.
STOPPING THE DRAIN
A healthier international game could also help stop the player drain we are currently experiencing. When Sam Burgess and Sonny Bill Williams announced they were moving and returning to rugby union, they both publicly expressed a desire to be involved in the world cup. Let’s not hide behind it, union’s international game is what makes them the stronger code and we need to somehow get to that level where our players want to be involved on an international level. That’s what will change the perception of the Australians. It’s a great opportunity for Sam and I certainly think he is good enough to be part of the England squad in time for the tournament. I just hope he gets that chance. All players want to be involved in games in big arenas like that and if we want to keep them all we need to be able to rival it.
I have never been part of a test series – the last one was in 2007 and I wasn’t involved – so I am really hoping I get picked for the visit of New Zealand this year even with my poor start. I love playing for England. Every time I do, no matter who the opposition is, it’s a great honour.
The word revenge has been thrown around a few times – for beating us in the RLWC2013 semi final or for defeating us at the Four Nations last year. But I don’t think we have earned the right to talk like that as we haven’t won anything. If we were champions and they came from behind to beat us, then it would be fair enough. But we haven’t so we can’t.
This column was first published in Rugby League World issue 409 (May 2015). Ryan Hall writes for Rugby League World every month. Download the app from Apple Newsstand or Google Play to read the digital edition or order a print subscription at www.totalrl.com/shop