Martin Gleeson column: ‘England need more real Tests’

James Graham can't hide his anger. Picture: NRL Photos
James Graham can't hide his anger. Picture: NRL Photos

In the last of his World Cup columns, former Wigan and GB centre Martin Gleeson explores how England can kick-on from their final thriller...

What a game. What a brutal, epic World Cup Final.

Cameron Smith guided Australia to World Cup glory. Picture: NRL Photos

Cameron Smith guided Australia to World Cup glory. Picture: NRL Photos

You could see the relief on the Aussies’ faces at the end – they knew they’d been in a game. The lads ran their blood to water, and I was really proud of their efforts.

They gave it their all.

And in the end, it just came down to a few fine details.

Their kicking game was consistently better than ours, we made errors when we needed to not make errors, we panicked at times, and it just wasn’t to be.

Three Wigan wing legends together... Martin Offiah, Pat Richards and Jason Robinson after the Joining Jack success in Dubai. Picture: Pat Richards Instagram

Three Wigan wing legends together... Martin Offiah, Pat Richards and Jason Robinson after the Joining Jack success in Dubai. Picture: Pat Richards Instagram

But there was a lot to admire from England’s performance.

From the start, there were some big shots going in.

James Graham was clattered with his first carry but carried on and played well, Sam Burgess put on some big shots, John Bateman is a warrior – though, as I’ve said from the start, I wished he was in the middle where he would be more involved.

I could go on: Ryan Hall played really well, with both his carries and defusing threats, and Kallum Watkins – throughout the competition – looked hungry and sharp.

If only he had not been grounded by Josh Dugan’s ankle tap, it could have been a different story.

But the final showed we can match them in terms of physicality and – to a certain degree – in personnel.

Moving on, it will be interesting to see if Wayne Bennett stays on as coach.

Until the final, you could argue they were under-performing, and yet in the decider they were terrific – even though they didn’t win, and didn’t score any points.

In two Tests against them during this tournament, we scored only one try; we’re not far off, but we’re not there yet.

Australia’s spine controlled it better than us.

By the time they next play, it will all change. They will need to find a new No.7 with Cooper Cronk retiring at the end of the tournament. Johnathan Thurston, who was injured for the World Cup, is also nearing the end of his career – as are full-back Billy Slater and hooker Cameron Smith.

But you’ve got to remember they have three State of Origin games before their next Test – three huge games to see who performs under intense pressure.

Watch Origin, and there can be two or three penalties, so the halves have to kick out of their own half more often than, say, in Super League when the penalty count can be in the 20s. It sharpens their concentrations. It gives the Aussies a huge advantage.

Which is why, if England are serious about trying to catch them, they need more Tests.

We need to grow from here. We need meaningful, mid-season internationals. Tonga and Fiji have shown in the World Cup that they are emerging forces in international rugby league – so let’s play more games against them.

For years, we’ve cried out for a ‘fourth nation’ to make the Four Nations a credible competition. Now we have four, even five, and the concept has been scrapped.

It seems daft to me. I know there are problems with overcrowding, I know there is no simple fix to please the clubs, but if we want England to really kick on from here, we need to invest in it – in terms of money, time and organising more Tests.

I watched the final on TV for the first time last night.

I missed in on Saturday morning, as I was with the Joining Jack team which played in the masters category at the Dubai Sevens event. And I’m pleased to say we won it!

It was an unbelievable experience. From start to finish, I loved it. All the boys came together well – it didn’t matter if they were from rugby union or league, everyone blended together really well and bought into what they wanted to achieve.

It was evident early on that we had a decent side, and I was absolutely made up for Andy and Alex when we won.

They were so emotional, and hopefully it helped give Joining Jack more exposure.

I never thought I’d get the chance to play alongside Jason Robinson, so that was great. And yes, he’s still got it; that zip, that acceleration off the mark, the step and the fend – he made a few full-backs look pretty ordinary!

Martin Offiah was also there, he helped get the lads warmed up and really kept the atmosphere going with his music.

Luke Dorn and Pat Richards killed it on the pitch, and it was good to have the chance to have a few beers with them at the end.

Paddy scored our only try in the final and then converted the goal.

They scored a try but credit to Stephen Wild, he tracked back and prevented the scorer going under the posts, which meant they missed the goal – and that proved critical in the end.

They threw a lot at us, but we dug deep for each other – and for Jack, Alex and Andy – and I’m thrilled we got the win.