Can Shaun Wane even up the ledger?
Garry Schofield looks ahead to England’s international match against France in Perpignan this Saturday.
I’ll be watching with interest when England face France in Perpignan on Saturday – and taking particular note of the team Shaun Wane puts out in his second match in charge.
I hope it’s as strong as possible, although I suspect it might be quite a bit different to the line-up against Samoa in the World Cup opening match at St James’ Park in Newcastle in just under twelve months’ time.
Of course a lot can change in a year, because players come in and out of form, and unfortunately, pick up injuries.
But there’s also a clamour for Waney to have a look at some players who are on the periphery – which for me, is failing to show proper respect to England, France and the fixture.
International shirts should be earned, not handed out like bibs at a training session.
I know the pandemic posed particular problems, but the clash with the Combined Nations All Stars at Warrington in June was a bit of a farce, with the opposition, especially, scratching around to raise a side.
Seeing Jake Connor and Jermaine McGillvary playing against England summed it up, and at least we won’t have anything like that against France.
After England’s 26-24 defeat, in which Jermaine scored a try, let’s not forget, Waney has a record of played one, lost one, and he’ll be desperate to even things out.
France have some decent players, and will be eager to maintain the feelgood factor after the success at club level this year of Catalans Dragons and Toulouse (more of them later).
But England should have too much, and be able to strike a blow ahead of the World Cup meeting between the two.
I hope it’s a better spectacle than the Great Britain versus France match of February 1984, which marked my international debut.
While massively proud to have played and taken my first step on a hugely memorable journey with the Lions, it’s not a Friday night I look back on with any particular pleasure.
To start with, it was foul weather at Headingley – wet and cold – and France came to try and bully us rather than with the intention of playing any fluent rugby.
There wasn’t a try all evening. We won 10-0 through five penalty goals by David Hobbs, which backs up my view of the opposition’s approach.
I had a stinker, as well as a barney with my winger John Basnett, because we were both getting frustrated by the lack of possession and competing for any scraps that came our way.
In fact the best thing about the whole experience was that the coach Frank Myler, who was a great man-manager, took me to one side afterwards, told me to put it down to experience, and kept faith with me.
I was so pleased to be picked for that summer’s Ashes tour, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Toulouse will prosper, but Fev will come again
As I wrote earlier, it’s been quite a year for the Catalans and Toulouse, who followed up the Dragons’ appearance in the Grand Final by winning the Million Pound Game and promotion to Super League.
Featherstone were always going to have to pull something really special out of the bag to get a victory, especially over in France, and no one could argue with the 34-12 win for Sylvain Houles’ side.
While people are arguing over what Toulouse will bring to the top flight, I think it’s plenty, and I’m all for having a second French club, especially one as well run as they appear to be.
This isn’t a set-up built on sand, because Toulouse are an old and well-established club who began their Super League project some time ago, and have proved themselves to be both determined and patient.
When their first stint in the Championship became a struggle, they took a step back, played in the French domestic competition for a few seasons, winning the title twice, then came back stronger.
With Houles a constant in the coaching role, they have made steady progress since, and a glance at the league table shows there has been no doubting their consistency this season.
Like any promoted side, they will have to strengthen, which I’m sure they will do, and with their location in France’s fourth-largest city, their stadium and their tie-up with a very strong rugby union club, they have a lot going for them in terms of gaining sponsors and spectators (clashes with Catalans should be pretty special).
Having attracted 9,235 – and national media attention – against Featherstone, they’ll be looking to increase crowds to the five-figure mark, which I’m sure is more than achievable, and make their stadium a fortress.
As ever, the first objective will be to ensure they are still in Super League in 2023, however many clubs the competition is made up of by then, and while they will know the size of the task which awaits, they will be up for the challenge.
As for Featherstone, another club with a strong history, solid foundations, a good ground and a loyal fanbase, it will be a case of regrouping and going again.
Mark Campbell is an ambitious and determined chairman who won’t easily give up on his fight to finally get Rovers up to where he believes they belong.
There will be some strong competition, with Leigh eager to return to the top table and clubs like Bradford, Halifax, Newcastle, Widnes and York busy on recruitment, but I’d be surprised if Featherstone aren’t a force again.
Support the Cumbrians
While Toulouse were grabbing the lion’s share of the headlines, I’d like to say well done to Workington on winning the League 1 play-off final against Doncaster.
Their victory after a second-placed league finish means they go up alongside my old side Barrow to make it three Cumbrian clubs in the Championship.
It’s great to see, because the county is a real Rugby League stronghold, with a solid amateur scene as well as the three professional sides.
Whitehaven recovered from a shaky start to reach the Championship play-offs with a great run at the back end of the season.
I know supporters of and people involved with all three clubs, particularly Barrow, where the sporting scene is especially strong following the football club’s rise up the rankings in recent years.
Paul Crarey continues to do a great job, and Whitehaven and Workington both have up-and-coming coaches in Jonty Gorley and Chris Thorman respectively.
My message to the Cumbrian public is get out and support your local sides. There’s some great entertainment and banter to be had, and every click of the turnstile helps that club get that little bit stronger.
Huddersfield’s halfback conundrum
I see Huddersfield have finally completed the signing of Theo Fages from St Helens, meaning Ian Watson has got another of his old Salford mates in.
The Giants have already brought in Tui Lolohea, and we’ll be watching to find out if the pair of them can help Watto in his bid to create a top-four side.
Hopefully, we’ll still see plenty of Will Pryce, although I don’t buy into suggestions that he should become a fullback.
He’s been great in the halves, and I’d like to see a really talented English player continue to learn his trade there.
Huddersfield also have a good prospect in Oliver Russell, and I hope he doesn’t find himself out in the cold at the John Smith’s Stadium.
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