England captain Sean O’Loughlin has joined in the debate over the mid-season Test in Colorado, arguing that the NRL has a duty to promote the international game.
Head coach Wayne Bennett and his eight NRL-based players have issued a statement confirming their support for the controversial fixture at Denver’s Mile High Stadium on June 23 and calling on their clubs to get behind the game against New Zealand.
Although the match has been sanctioned by the Rugby League International Federation and is taking place during the mid-season break, there is clearly some more lobbying to be done to win over those NRL clubs who are threatening to not release players.
“I hope all the NRL boys get the nod,” O’Loughlin said. “I know the NRL are dragging their feet a bit.
“I’m not up to speed with all that’s happening behind the scenes but I’m just hoping Wayne has the pick of everyone and it can be our strongest side that goes out there.
“The NRL are the biggest generators of income - they’re a lot more successful money-wise than Super League and probably the international game - so they’re holding the cards a little bit at the minute.
“But I still think they have a certain responsibility to promote the international game. We in Super League always want that to happen.”
O’Loughlin welcomed the statement from his Australia-based team-mates, arguing the importance of the mid-season fixture in the wake of England’s successful World Cup campaign.
“It’s big for the national side from our perspective that we back the World Cup up and get a win,” said the Wigan loose forward.
“The atmosphere created during the camp was one of the best I’ve been involved in so I’ve no doubt all those players want to be part of it but it’s probably down to the clubs and the NRL now.”
The Rugby Football League is hoping Wigan and England doctor Chris Brookes has allayed any fears of the NRL over the difficulties associated with playing at high altitude and O’Loughlin believes those problems have been exaggerated.
“I think anyone who’s been involved in sport knows that that wouldn’t be an issue,” he said. “There’s a stadium there where people play week in, week out.
“We’ve been to South Africa as England in the past and trained at high altitude for fitness benefits.”
Meanwhile, the 35-year-old O’Loughlin insists he will never retire from the international game as he eyes the end-of-season Test series against the Kiwis, although he has yet to consider putting his hand up for the British and Irish Lions when they return in 2019.
“My stance on it has always been the same, I’ll always be available for England if selected,” he said.
“If the staff and people who decide on the team think somebody else doing my role is an option, then I’d totally understand that, but I’d love to be involved with England for as long as I can.
“Because I’m later in my career now, internationals are always a big bonus for me but I’m not really looking at anything beyond this year.”