Talking Rugby League: Why have England handicapped themselves for Tonga series?

LAST week the RFL hosted a press conference to preview the forthcoming Test series between England and Tonga. 

It’s certainly a series to look forward to. The Tongans have shown in recent years how much they have improved, having lost to England by two points in the 2017 World Cup and then defeating Great Britain in 2019.

The first Test is at St Helens on Sunday, October 22, a little over a month away.

The NRL Grand Final will be held on the first day of October, while the Super League Grand Final will be played on Saturday, October 14.

If our Grand Final is played between Wigan and St Helens, which it may well be, then the players from those two clubs who are selected for England will have only eight days to recover from what is sure to be the most intense and toughest game of the season.

The Tongans, on the other hand, will have much longer, probably a month or longer, given that most of them will not be involved in the Grand Final or even in next week’s NRL semi-finals.

So why are we handicapping ourselves so badly and handing an advantage to our opponents, who are good enough not to need any advantages?

Of course the answer is that our clubs want to play an exhausting season of 27 league matches, which squeezes representative and international Rugby League to the margins.

In an ideal world, the Grand Finals of both major Rugby League competitions would be played on the same weekend, but I suspect it will take a long time before we see that happening.

The clubs can’t get it into their heads that fewer matches would almost certainly result in bigger crowds, while leaving room for Shaun Wane to prepare his England team.

Despite all the hurdles placed in front of them, England might still be able to beat the Tongans.

But it would be much better if they didn’t face opposition from our own clubs.