Talking RL: The two little words which caught my eye

England and France walk out at Avignon's stadium on Saturday night
England and France walk out at Avignon's stadium on Saturday night

The Four Nations hasn’t even started and we already know the host nation for the 2021 World Cup.

Given the pattern for staging the event has alternated like this recently – England, Australia, England, Australia – it wasn’t exactly a shock to learn the winning bid was, yep, England.

Some who had seen the USA’s bold bid see this as a golden opportunity lost. That they have missed a trick to expand the sport outside of Australia’s east coast, England’s north and pockets of New Zealand and France.

Others have welcomed the early decision because, let’s be honest, when it comes to last minute planning, rugby league has plenty of previous.

Me? What piqued my interest were two little words.

In the bid announcement in June, the RFL’s statement trumpeted the government’s “commitment to provide £15m” - an obvious news angle when the story was covered at the time.

The Four Nations captains at Anfield earlier this week

The Four Nations captains at Anfield earlier this week

Now they have been selected, the sports minister says “the government is investing up to £15m.”

‘Up to’.

No-one mentioned ‘up to’ in June. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but there’s something about those two words which both interests and irritates me.

A friend was told he could be entitled to ‘up to’ £1,000 in PPI compensation, only to get £25 back from a washing machine he’d once bought. I hope the £15m figure is more solid than that.

No-one mentioned ‘up to’ in June.

I’m behind Wayne Bennett’s idea for England to play a mid-season Test Down Under - let’s debate the Super League fixture congestion it causes another day - but I hope the end-of-season Test in France becomes an annual event.

Fans who made the trek enjoyed it, the travel kept England’s winning margin down, France needs competition to improve, and organisers say it had 396,000 viewers in France alone, more than a Super League match.

I was one of six journalists who flew from the UK for the France Test.

Others covered it off the TV (whisper it quietly, but some broadcasters have been doing it that way for ages – commentating in a UK studio over the top of a live feed).

It prompted someone to ask on Twitter how fans felt about reporters covering games off the box (which isn’t common place).

In Avignon, there were no TVs in the press box - indeed, there wasn’t even a big screen. So anyone covering the game off the TV – with the benefit of replays – had a far better view of some key moments: the brawl, the video refereeing calls, the tackle which forced James Graham off the pitch.

So in terms of just covering the match, doing it off the box has its benefits. But it’s rarely just about a match report – it’s about the stories the game generates.

For example, if no reporters had travelled, a colleague I was with would never have bought the local paper. I wouldn’t have been able to ask a waiter for a translation (later verified). We would never have known the France coach ‘hated’ his opponents’ guarded preparations and had felt ‘disrespected’ by England’s flying visit.

And, obviously, we would not have been able to ask the new England coach about the remark afterwards, or the other major talking points... not to mention carry out the number of other post-game interviews which took place.

And so it begins. That near-annual ritual of heading into a tournament wondering if this will, finally, be the year England win a tournament involving Australia.

I can’t help feel optimistic about their chances. I know, I know, I’ve fallen for this before.

But a look at the 19-man squad, and the quality of the players who haven’t made the cut, has convinced me. I hope I’m right.

I suspect the qualifying process for the Four Nations was introduced because organisers couldn’t decide whether to include France or Wales.

So they had a competition to decide... and then Scotland went along and won it!

Let’s not pretend there is much interest in rugby league north of the border, but I want them to do well.

Because not only were they not wanted in the Four Nations, but they are earning a pittance (some players are taking a pay-cut to play), they are huge underdogs and, to top if off, there are half-a-dozen Wiganers in the Scots’ ranks, including coach Steve McCormack, as good a bloke as you’re likely to meet. Go on the Bravehearts!

One plea, to Warriors and Latics.

Wigan have been handed a home clash against Widnes on Friday, February 24. The day later, Latics host Notttingham Forest.

On the last weekend of February this year, you may recall, Shaun Wane’s men had to bring a fixture forward to avoid a similar scenario because it would have been “crazy” to have a quick turnaround in winter, chairman Ian Lenagan said at the time.

Give-and-take is inevitable with ground-sharing, but what rankles fans the most is when changes are only announced late on.

If there is going to be a switch, I hope it is confirmed well in advance.