UpFront: The international game springs to life – but remains too fractured

After the difficulties of the last few years, it’s great to see the spotlight fall firmly on the international arena as the countdown to the delayed World Cup begins in earnest.

It’s less than 17 weeks until the tournament kicks off with hosts England taking on Samoa in Newcastle and holders Australia facing Fiji in Leeds on Saturday, October 15.

As Kristian Woolf has pointed out, it’s a shame the two hemispheres were unable to co-ordinate their international breaks, since the Tonga coach will be at St Helens for his club’s meeting with Leeds on Thursday rather than in Auckland for the international against New Zealand on Saturday.

It also means that, other than Wakefield forward Tinirau Arona, who will fly to Sydney to play for Cook Islands against Samoa, part of a double-header also featuring Fiji versus Papua New Guinea, no European-based players will be involved in any of those three games.

Meanwhile rather than having a mid-season international against a Southern Hemisphere nation, as was the case when they faced New Zealand in Denver in 2019, the RFL had to reprise the Combined Nations All Stars side to provide England with a suitably challenging Test.

If the international game really is to be the pinnacle of the sport, it’s a situation which needs to be addressed, with Australia, where State of Origin II takes place in Perth on Sunday, therefore ruling out an opportunity for Mal Meninga to work with his Kangaroos, also brought into line.

That’s for the future, and it will be interesting to see whether IMG’s involvement in Rugby League will have any impact in this sphere.

For the time being, England coach Shaun Wane was left to pit his wits against his old Wigan team-mate Ellery Hanley, appointed to lead the All Stars this year after Tim Sheens gained victory in the fixture last June.

This time, Wane and his team came out winners, and while some (including League Express columnist Garry Schofield) have questioned the intensity of the match, it’s better than not having a mid-season international, and it produced several talking points.

Michael McIlorum returned to the England fold convincingly, debutants Jake Wardle, Joe Batchelor, Matty Lees and Jacks Welsby had the chance to catch Wane’s eye and despite his less-than-convincing form for Warrington, George Williams got the job done at scrum-half.

In the first part of the Warrington double-header, England Women best France, whose men’s team got the better of Wales in Albi.

All the games are covered in this week’s issue.

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