Talking RL: International plan threw up more questions than answers

The Rugby League International Federation issued a statement yesterday outlining details from their previous day's 'historic' meeting (Nigel Wood's word, not mine).
Would Joe Burgess play in a 2019 World Cup, or would England's tour Down Under be at the same time?Would Joe Burgess play in a 2019 World Cup, or would England's tour Down Under be at the same time?
Would Joe Burgess play in a 2019 World Cup, or would England's tour Down Under be at the same time?

Among the key points revealed were:

– An Emerging Nations World Cup in Sydney in 2018.

– England tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2019, “complemented by” a Nines World Cup.

– The 2021 World Cup (in the UK) will feature 16 teams.

– The major 2023 international event could be a Nines World Cup instead of a 13-a-side tournament.

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“Great move,” one tweeted, in response to the introduction of Nines. “Good on the RLIF!” tweeted another.

Sorry if I can’t be so enthusiastic.

Last week, I gave a talk to pupils at St Edmund Arrowsmith High School about the role of a journalist.

By chance, 10 minutes before I left the office, an email came through from the RFL announcing £10m of Sport England funding for the next four years.

I thought it may prove a good case study, so I printed it off, showed the pupils, and asked them whether they thought it was good news or not.

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Most nodded, presumably thinking that was the right answer. £10m sounds like a lot, right?

One lad shrugged, and admitted, “I’ve no idea”.

Right answer, I said. Because the press release didn’t say whether it was an increase or a decrease (it was a decrease – rugby league received £17.5m in 2013, according to ITV), and it didn’t say how much other sports received. There was nothing to gauge the amount by.

I hoped it resonated with the pupils that the best stories are often not what’s included in a press release, but what’s left out.

And this statement from the RLIF is a case in point.

Before we pop the Prosecco about England’s tour in 2019, does that mean plans to revive Great Britain have been shelved? The statement appears to suggest so, without saying.

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Before we pull the party-poppers about a Nines World Cup, can someone explain what “complemented by” means?

Will it be staged at the same time as England’s tour of New Zealand and Australia – and thus ruling those Test players out – or before, or after it?

I like the idea that the people in charge of the rugby league international game looked as far as 2023 in this statement – and remember, they’ve already provisionally awarded USA the 2025 World Cup.

Any foresight should be welcomed.

Yet no-one call tell me if England’s Test against Samoa in five weeks’ time – FIVE. WEEKS – is going to be televised or not.

And on England, what’s happening next year?

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Yes, we know about the 2019 tour, we know about the 2021 World Cup, even know about ‘23 and ‘25.
But what about ‘18 and ‘20?

The 800-word statement didn’t say.

Didn’t say if there were plans for England to host an event (and as it stands, there are no home matches until 2021).

Didn’t say if the Aussies wanted a year off, as has been suggested, or not.

For me, the RLIF statement threw up more questions than answers.

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So I emailed some of those to their media contact. And received a reply telling me there are ‘no more details about the calendar at this stage. There is a plan to make further announcements as and when they become available’.

That’s good to hear.

Shaun Wane gave a frank and funny insight into the pressures of being a head coach.

Asked whether Brian McDermott, Tony Smith and Keiron Cunningham were getting unfair criticism from fans, he said: “It’s just the job, that the pressure.

“On Friday we were unbeaten all year, I had a team with kids, and I was getting screamed at at half-time because we were losing.”

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Asked if he could repeat what one fan yelled at him, he replied: “No, I can’t... and he had his kid with him!”

It’s sad to hear Sam Tomkins’ return may be delayed. He is having problems running with a surgical plate in his foot, and may need it removing.

But better to wait a few weeks for a fully-fit Sam Tomkins, than let him battle on when he’s not at his best. Micky McIlorum has had a similar procedure to remove a plate (he was due to be fit for the start of the season) and by all reports, is now flying in training.

Sam never managed to get back to his brilliant best in his comeback campaign last year. His last game, against Warrington, was arguably his best. But we only have to look at his brother Joel to see the difference between a quality player who is struggling, and one who is fully-fit. A few fans doubted Joel could get back to his best last year. And the year before. Now he’s close to it – and I look forward to seeing Sam do the same.

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Denny Solomona gave a full interview to The Times yesterday.

Asked if he understood the frustrations of rugby league fans about his abrupt and controversial code-switch, he was quoted as saying: “Everyone’s got their frustrations. I’ll move on. I’m sure they’ll move on, too.”

He’s missed the point. Castleford, and Super League, are doing just fine without the free-scoring winger. They’ve moved on.

The issue was how he felt he could walk away from his contract by “retiring” as a league player, and how Sale RU felt they could sign him without paying any compensation to Cas’. The issue was the precedent it would set. On that front, it seems a settlement is close to being reached out-of-court.

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Meanwhile, Solomona’s decision to pledge his loyalties to England has prompted the expected debate. When I interviewed him last year he said, “I’m not English, I want to play for Samoa or New Zealand” though, I must point out, he admitted he may think differently if he “settled here, had kids here, married an English girl...”

Interestingly, union is looking at emulating league and changing the residency rule from three years to five.

Staying with union for a moment, well done to Aspull RU for winning a title last weekend.

And well done to opponents Oxton Parkonians who, having found themselves 48-0 down just before half-time, were awarded a penalty... and elected to kick for goal! Unbelievable.

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One thing which often gets overlooked at Wigan is their successful signings.

There aren’t many duff recruits. And on retention, there aren’t many who leave and return to haunt the club.

Morgan Escare has turned out to be an even better player than I expected, and it’s encouraging Wigan have already opened talks about a new deal with him, as well as George Williams.

Consider this: Since Wigan last won at Headingley, they have won a league leaders’ shield, won two Grand Finals, lost two Grand Finals, triumphed in the Challenge Cup and even become World Club Champions!

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Indeed, when they battered the Rhinos in 2012 – when Rio Ferdinand celebrated with them in the dressing-room – George Williams had not made his first-team debut. While some away venues have proved happy hunting grounds – Hull FC’s, for starters – Headingley hasn’t. The players say they enjoy playing at the old ground, but their recent record is worse than any other, despite success at other venues (Magic, anyone?). Is it down to Leeds playing better at home, or just the way it has fallen? I’m honestly not sure.