It galls me to give too much praise to rugby union, and I don’t think the game is free from faults by any means, but there are some things they do really well and from which Rugby League could learn.
One good example is the announcement by England, last Wednesday, of their schedule for the 2022 Autumn internationals, less than a month after the final match of this year’s series against South Africa at Twickenham.
In 2022, Eddie Jones’ side will again face the Springboks after taking on Argentina, Japan and New Zealand, who provide the opposition on Saturday, November 19.
If that date rings a bell, it’s perhaps because it’s also the final of the Rugby League World Cup at Old Trafford. Is that a coincidence? Make your own minds up!
Maybe there will be England versus New Zealand clashes in both codes – much as I’d like to see it happen, I wouldn’t put too much money on it – but one thing is odds on.
It’s that the England rugby union matches will be well marketed, well publicised and well attended.
There were more than 81,000 for each to his year’s games against Tonga, Australia and South Africa and I read that tickets for the All Blacks clash next year could well cost up to £200.
Whatever you think about of attractions or otherwise of rugby union, people flock to the big matches.
That’s partly down to marketing and the way the game’s governors have managed to turn the Autumn series into an event which is on a par with the Six Nations.
England will take on both Argentina and Japan in the group stages of union’s World Cup in two years’ time and Jones talked the series up nicely when he said: “These fixtures will be a really important part of our preparation for 2023.
“It’s almost a mini-World Cup in itself and we’re fortunate to have it less than a year before the tournament.
“It will be a good litmus test for the team to see where we are at, culminating in playing first and second in the world.”
Compare that to the state of our international game, with fixtures seemingly thrown together at the eleventh hour and Australia fourth in the world in the latest IRL rankings.
Romance returns to the Challenge Cup
It was good to see the draws for the first two rounds of the Challenge Cup taking place – and I’m pleased amateur and services teams are once again involved.
It adds interest and a touch of romance to what remains the biggest and best knockout competition in world Rugby League.
Playing in the Challenge Cup is a big thing and provides lads from the likes of Bridgend Blue Bulls, Jarrow Vikings, Orrell St James and Upton with a memorable match to look back on.
If they can seal a tie against a League 1 club in round two, all the better, and looking at the various pairings, we could be seeing Thatto Heath heading to Oldham, Leigh Miners hosting North Wales Crusaders and London Chargers visiting London Skolars.
It’s just a shame that we have to wait until round four for the Championship clubs to come in and round six (the last 16) until we see any Super League sides.
The big boys have enough advantages already, and one of the great things about any cup is that chance of a little ‘un facing a big ‘un.
Such ties raise interest in the game and much-needed revenue for smaller clubs.
As I’ve said in the past, I’d like to see Super League sides involved at an earlier stage, fighting their way through more games to get to the final.
I almost said get to Wembley, but of course next year the final will be at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
‘Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be, we’re going to somewhere in North London’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and while the new White Hart Lane might be all slick, shiny and spectacular, it’s still not Wembley, which might have been redeveloped, but still has that special name and unique history.
The move to Tottenham, which the RFL insists is for one year only, also takes a bit of shine off the 1895 Cup, but it’s still a competition I like, especially when it’s harder than ever for clubs outside Super League to mount a significant Challenge Cup run.
We saw its meaning and value this year when Featherstone and York made it to Wembley and were able to take plenty of fans, gain valuable publicity and make some welcome money through merchandise sales.
It’s good to see one of my old Leeds and Great Britain team-mates being remembered on Boxing Day, when Batley and Dewsbury meet for the Roy Powell Trophy.
Roy, who died of a heart attack at just 33 back in 1998, was a tremendous forward who we nicknamed ‘The Vacuum Cleaner’ because of his ability to sweep everything up on the pitch.
He’d put his body on the line when no one else would without flinching, he was a really hard worker both in training and matches, and his ability was matched by his enthusiasm.
I remember on the Lions’ tour of Papua New Guinea and New Zealand in 1990, he would make himself available not just for every match, but every training session, function and public appearance.
He was really competitive, but I never saw him punch an opponent, and off the field, Roy, who was born in Dewsbury and played for Batley, was a real gentleman, and always good fun to be around.
The best tribute I can pay is to say that every team needs a Roy Powell.
I’m sure I speak for a lot of people in saying he is still missed.
Smart move by Saints
What a great move by St Helens to tie down Morgan Knowles on a four-year contract.
He’s a top backrower who has played a key part in his club’s success over the last three years.
One of many great forward to come from Cumbria, Morgan is a good ball player who can operate like a loose-forward of old, and that’s great to see.
He’s still only 25, so he has a lot of rugby in front of him. I view him as a real leader for both club and country.
Having previously played for Wales, he is now an England international who will have an important role in next year’s World Cup.
Given that tournament will put him in the shop window and most likely have NRL clubs drooling, Saints’ move is even more far-sighted.
They will certainly want to keep hold of him, but if things change and he does fancy a transfer, they will be able to claim a hefty fee.
WITH no League Express next Monday, this is my last column of 2021.
I’ve really enjoyed giving honest weekly opinions, and I’d like to wish all readers a happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.
I’ll be back in 2022, which from a Rugby League point of view, I sincerely hope culminates in a fantastic World Cup, won by England.
There’s nothing wrong with a little festive optimism!
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