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New-look England to step up in Four Nations

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George Riley George Riley | 05:57 UK time, Thursday, 27 October 2011

As he prepares his side to face Wales, New Zealand and Australia, Steve McNamara believes it is now time England emerged from the shadows to win silverware.

Twelve months ago before flying Down Under for the Four Nations, the coach told me he had no expectations, and had set the players no targets. "Continued improvement is the goal," he said. "If that happens we will enjoy ourselves."

England didn't enjoy themselves, losing both to Australia and New Zealand before scraping a victory over Papua New Guinea. The Kiwis then downed Australia in the final. This time Iestyn Harris' Wales join the party, replacing PNG.

A year on, McNamara has had a bit of a rethink. While maintaining that desire to assemble a squad he thinks can compete at the World Cup in 2013, the former Bradford boss believes the best way to close that clichéd gap with the southern hemisphere super powers is to actually win something.

Steve McNamara

England Rugby League coach Steve McNamara says his side have "great belief" that they can win the Four Nations trophy. PHOTO:Getty

Shelving some of that desire to blood a squad he believes can challenge for the big one in two years time, McNamara has brought in some new faces to try and win this one.

His selections of the Castleford-converted Maori Rangi Chase, Brisbane-based but Airedale-born Jack Reed, and Aussie Chris Heighington (his dad has a British passport) have been controversial, and hint at a powerful desire to win at all costs.

The move to foreign blood provoked a backlash from fans and journalists, with players I've spoken to split down the middle. Why shouldn't McNamara pick the best players available?

He didn't go seeking out Chase. Rangi rang him, explained his situation and made a passionate plea to be allowed the chance to give something back to the country which has adopted and looked after him after a troubled upbringing.

I put fans' criticisms to McNamara on a recent 5live Breakfast programme, and the animated conversation continued outside the studio.

He is sticking to his guns and believes the squad he has selected can justify his shift in thinking by winning the Four Nations.

While we could argue about passports all day, I do applaud McNamara for picking the players in form.

You'd have been laughed at mid-season by predicting that a third of his squad would comprise Leeds Rhinos, but the champions' astonishing late purple patch has ensured that has happened.

From having no players in the Super League Dream Team to dominating the national side is some turnaround.

Most surprised of all being centre Carl Ablett who had to duck out of his own stag do in Las Vegas. As supportive as ever, his mates still went, including Grand Final man-of-the-match Rob Burrow, denied his own England place through injury.

Apparently Ablett got a postcard, so it wasn't all lost. There is the usual criticism of Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield, with some irate fans littering my Twitter account with angry tirades at his selection at stand-off.

Personally I prefer Sinfield at 13, but he has excelled at 6 for Leeds this year and you can understand the selection.

This is his best, and probably final chance to prove he can be influential at stand-off on the international stage too, and having the sparkle, pace and vision of Chase alongside him should allow Sinfield to concentrate on his kicking more than his playmaking.

Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney believes England will be far stronger than 12 months ago. In fact the boss of the world and defending Four Nations champions tells me this is the strongest England squad he has seen in a long time.

That is both high praise and a thumbs up to McNamara's selection policy. But it doesn't mean the Antipodean stranglehold on the international game will be broken.

Looking at the squad, England can certainly compete. Making the final as they did two years ago is for me the minimum goal.

Sam Burgess is a big loss in the pack but with warhorses James Graham and Jamie Peacock fronting up once more, there's no real loss of impact.

Traditionally it is in the outside backs that England are undone at the very top level, hence McNamara's desire to ready Reed for action.

There are tries outside him from Ryan Hall, and the Yeaman-Briscoe Hull FC axis looks stronger than previous partnerships on the left.

Off the bench there is impact from veteran enforcer Adrian Morley and another Aussie-based Yorkshiremen in Gaz Widdop.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan is in the form of his life under Brian McDermott at Leeds, while the ever-reliable Jon Wilkin has put off an operation for yet another year in order to wear the England badge again.

I have no doubt England can beat Wales, Australia and New Zealand in one-off matches on home soil.

The problem is they have never been able to back up and do it again the following week, and I fear it will be final at best again.

Wales preparations weren't helped this week by the shock announcement by dual-code great Gareth Thomas that he would never pick up a rugby ball again.

"Alfie" was set to line up at centre for Harris' side in the opener again England, although I understand the 37-year-old told Iestyn of his decision a week before making it public.

Thomas' agent tells me the player had already signed a contract with Wigan for next year before a dramatic u-turn.

The Warriors deny this. Harris' hopes are pinned on a Welsh-based backbone, but it's Lee Briers who again holds the key.

The Warrington magician seems to be getting better with age and he lives for occasions like these.

Like him or loathe him Briers will be as fired up for the England game as any in his illustrious career to date.

Are the Welsh just making up the numbers? Probably. But I expect to see real passion against England whom they have not beaten since 1995. Indeed 1977 was the last Welsh win on English soil.

Australia and New Zealand warmed up for the tournament by smashing each other up in Newcastle, in what was Darren Lockyer's final international in Australia.

The Aussies crushed the Kiwis 42-6, as powerful a pre-tournament marker as you could wish to see. The pace and power on show in the game was awesome, if a little frightening watching on as an England fan.

I expect the Lockyer factor to be huge as one of the sport's all-time greats says goodbye.

The wise money is on Australia taking New Zealand's crown this year, indeed several of my Aussie mates maintain the Kiwis World Cup and Four Nations final wins were just flukes, and it is Australia who are the real world leaders.

That may be Aussie arrogance, or they may have a point, but it needs proving. Coach Tim Sheens is refreshing in using those defeats as a spur.

Ask some coaches if they are fired up by past failures and they will label them irrelevant. Sheens though says Australia "owes" New Zealand and admits it is a massive motivation.

England and Wales have a titanic task to prevent another Antipodean assault.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Not a hugh fan of RL, but will be supporting England.

    #1. Just as a mater of interest, what is your sport.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm not as big a fan of League as I am of Union but I will watch the Four-Nations. I don't expect much from England though. I think Australia will win it this year - their form going into the tournament looks good.

  • Comment number 4.

    #1 You sound like a rugby union fan. I can't think of any other sport whose fans would refer to RL as 'the other code'. Your comment is silly. If you want a great example of what can be achieved in a set of six, go to that famous video sharing site and request 'Wide to West'. But I suppose to appreciate such wonderful rugby you would first have to appreciate running rugby, as opposed to scrums, line outs and rolling mauls.

    Meanwhile, this is a blog about international rugby league.

    It's unlikely England will win the comp because the Australians look really up for it this year and I think they have sniffed blood where the Kiwis are concerned. I don't know whether the Kiwis are still claiming 13 injuries or whatever it was but if their performance in Australia is anything to go by then they won't be taking the 4N trophy home with them this time! So while I don't hold out much hope of a victory for England, I will be at the games on the light side of the Pennines cheering on the lads regardless, as ever.

  • Comment number 5.

    Lol at #1. In Australia no one watches union, i for one cant stand watching the plodding, rule laden union game. League is is much more entertaining as you actually get to watch teams play the game for most of the match instead of watching a heap of blokes on the floor with the ref making some decison that no one can explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    I would just like England to put up a fight this year. I wouldn't mind if we lost if it was by a small(ish!) margin and an entertaining game.

    As a Warrington fan I know that this might sound like a gripe but I am really puzzled why Carvell is not in the first team. I know that JJB has played well towards the last 7 or 8 games of the season but Carvell has played well for 30+, and was part of a team with the best defence in the league. From watching the Australians and New Zealanders they play a very physical game down the middle and Carvell would be better suited for this type of play. Does anyone know if he is injured?

    Sinfield should be at loose forward in my opinion, with Danny M at stand off. Once again, Leeds hit form towards the back end of the season and Danny is a much more creative player.

  • Comment number 7.

    @1, Oh dear, what a stupid comment that was, Huzzah, kick the ball to me Rupery, Huzzah, I'll kick it back Tristram, penalty penalty penalty, do people actually run at all in your 'code' Oh yeah, mainly the league converts who have shown you how to score a 'TRY' , I'm not sure you'll know what one of those is, it's where a player carry's the ball across the line and puts it down, no, not with his foot, with his hands, am I going to fast, that'll be league then.

  • Comment number 8.

    It's the limited tackle count that makes RL the exciting game it is no.1. Gives the players the security to get the ball into attacking positions to put in the incisive passes, bombs and grubber kicks that you see far more frequently than in the 'other code'. Kicking is only really used as an offensive weopen, as oppossed to the fear riddled punting of RU. 40-20 kicks reward the attacking team with the ball, as oppossed to creating a defense-favouring line out. The lack of contested scrummaging, line outs, ruck and mails etc, mean that forwards are genuinely skilled rugby players instead of lumbering set piece specialists.

    William Webb Ellis picked up the ball to play running rugby. He wanted to leave pointless hoofing up the pitch to soccer players!

  • Comment number 9.

    #1 terrible comment. Enough said.

    I have no doubt that aus will win the 4n this year, too much quality and depth in each position, NZ will run them closer but will not come out on top as they have in previous comps. England will beat wales and then lose the next 2 games.

    While i can understand the thinking behind putting sinfield at stand off i cant agree with it, we have a 6 in the squad who has been playing 6 all season and tearing it up in the nrl. Why wouldnt you start with widdop?? Sinfield is a great player with a fabulous kicking game and organises well but against the aussies and kiwis we need more creativity from both our half backs!

  • Comment number 10.

    This is a RL blog about the 4 nations, so lets try to keep it as such.

    Personally I agree with #6. Sinfield would be much better at loose, but Widdop should be starting at 6. His been absolutely tearing it up there in one of the best NRL sides this year, and he has already performed for England there. Heighington should move up, and Westwood drop to the bench where he'd be a much better impact sub than either JJB or Wilkin. I'd probably also have Carvell and potentially Maguire on the bench for those two anyway. Massive shame that Burgess & O'Loughlin aren't fit, and J Tompkins is going to be a big loss for RL.

    Still, they are just my opinions, and it's one of things that makes RL so great - just how much it can divide opinions whilst producing interesting debate amongst people who know about and care about the game. Can't wait to be at the double header, but having watched the NZ Aus warm up game, I do fear the Aussie's are going to absolutely romp it this time around. But as the blog pointed out, in one off games England can beat anyone!

  • Comment number 11.

    Coup1, you got in there just before me! Totally agree though

  • Comment number 12.

    At #10, I totally agree r.e. Widdop can't believe I forgot about him!

    I wonder whether Ablett would have made the team if Atkins, Tomkins and Bridge were available....

  • Comment number 13.

    I'm a big fan of RL and always have been, but I find it difficult to take the Four Nations seriously.
    Simply put, we may be able to give them a good game in a one off match, but we'll NEVER give the Aussies a real test in competition rugby and whatever reasons those in power give, playing as England and Wales is a joke.
    If they want to persist with the individual home nations, fair enough, use them as a mid-season break, but PLEASE, when we play against the big boys (Aus + NZ) could we go back to GB and with that said, if anyone with power in RL actually wants the game to thrive at international level, France must be included in ALL international competitions.

  • Comment number 14.

    #1....Ahh.... the yawnion fans are crawling out from under their rocks after the "thrills and entertainment" of the RWC.

    That said, and as a few have done above, international RL is non event. League is a club supporter game, while yawnion is about 'barbies in twickers car park'...absolutely super darling!!

    and.... no, we've got no chance with McNamara in charge.

  • Comment number 15.

    Watching onion is like watching watching tennis wilkinson kicks the ball seventy yards to a French bloke who kicks it seventy yards the rest of the teams are the net.

  • Comment number 16.

    I love seeing rugby union fans (peopleshernandez)complain about rugby league. If it wasn't for rugby league union wont be the game it is today. How many rugby league players do union try and take from league teams. I didnt see England rugby union doing to well in the world cup.
    Oh by the way its 6 tackles not 5.

  • Comment number 17.

    #1 After being humiliated at the football world cup last year, whitewashed in the cricket this week and boring everyone to death at the Union world cup before capitulating to a poor French side, i'm not sure your criticisms of League are entirely unbiased. I do think League stands alone though as the only one where we don't overhype the side because we know other teams (Australia and New Zealand) have better players than us (we just haven't realised that for the other sports yet)

    I agree with Coup1 Australia will win it in Lockyers last year but the Kiwis seem to have the edge over them in the big finals so could be interesting if Benji has a blinder. As for England, we are certainly going to be more competitive with the NRL players, but it's the kicking game where we have been poor for as long as I can remember though I think Sinfield may well step up to the mark this series.

    Already bought tickets for the Wembley double header and can't wait!

  • Comment number 18.

    Guys, #1 was clearly a troll looking for a reaction and probally loving the responses. Union and League are two very seperate sport, its not that different to trying to compare either code to NFL by comparing them against each other. Having said that I will fall in to the union camp (not a jibe, just a statment) and if you watch some of the other teams in the Union world cup other than england (whole tournament) or france (in the semis) you can't say there wern't good team tries (williams try Vs Ireland, french captain Vs NZ in final, Falatau Vs SA etc) and attractive rugby being played. I know theres great tries scored in League but I just find the sport too repeative to watch (however I do enjoy playing it in training). I guess it's horses for courses where your preferances lie. But to my mind playing/being involved in any sport is better than being involved in no sport. So how about a bit of love between the two sets of fans instead of the usual bile thrown around by BOTH sets of fan?

    Oh and good luck to Wales in the four nations and then once they get knocked out good luck to England

  • Comment number 19.

    I'm certainly expecting a better showing from England this time and can see them making the final. They should have enough to sort Wales out without too many problems on Saturday and then comes the big one at Wembley the week after. Surely playing at the national stadium will give the players that extra push to play well (now dont all laugh at once) and i think we may just nick it against the aussies. People have said how good the kiwis are and any team that has Benji and Isaac Luke in is going to be dangerous but they are coming over here without 12 players who would normally be in the squad. So maybe its our turn to get to that final where i have no doubt that Darren Lockyer will be looking to bow out of the game as one of the greates of all time.
    As for the england team there are a few players who are missing but weve got three or four guys who are playing in the NRL (Even though i dont agree with Heighington and chase being in the squad) plus players from leeds, saints and wigan who have been playing in finals this year at a very high level. I certainly dont think sinfield should be in the halves as he was much better coming off the bench two years ago at hooker and the half back pairing should be chase and tomkins with widdop at full back.
    As for the tournament itself i hope it turns out to be a success. The Rugby league will be looking for 40-50 thousand at wembley and around 25 thousand at Hull for the New Zealand game. Other games crowds will be around the 10 thousand mark so once again the competition will be profitable.

  • Comment number 20.

    Can we do any worse than the Yawnion boys ?

    With Mcnamara in charge the answer is Yes

  • Comment number 21.

    My team for the game against wales:

    1. Tomkins 2. Briscoe 3. Yeaman 4. Reed 5. Hall 6. Widdop 7. Chase 8. Graham 9. Roby 10. Peacock 11. Ellis 12. Heighington 13. Sinfield

    14. Carvell 15. Morley 16. Westwood 17. Wilkin

  • Comment number 22.

    Rugby Union is the most ridicolous and pointless sport i have ever seem, whoopeee lets all dive on floor whilst ten people all pile on top and crush our ears into looking like rotting potatoes, and then pass it to some guy at the back whilst he kicks it to the other team so they can have a go, oh and were not bothered about scoring try's we will just keep kicking for goal all day. Why do you think Union is signing all leagues up and coming fledglings??? Its because they need to make there game more expansive and no Union players have the speed skill and sharpness of League lads!! Worst sport in the World by far!! Would rather watch tiddleywinks!

  • Comment number 23.

    Let's hope the England team can match your expectations George, and turn around half half the people's views on this board re international RL.

    It makes me laugh that people think that by playing as GB we'd have a better chance. Can't see Lloyd White and Elliot Kear making that much of an improvement to the England team.

    Maybe is the inference is that you exclude Wales. But if England/ GB are set to play the Exiles mid-season, when are Wales, France etc going to play the big teams? Playing the Exiles mid season is far better preparation for the 4 Nations anyway

  • Comment number 24.

    Its extremely disrespectful of the moderator of this site to allow completely irrelevant comments to head up the article. It certainly wouldn't be allowed on a Rugby Union blog. I'm a fan of both codes, both of which have advantages and disadvantages and most people involved in either sport will probably say the same. Grow up BBC and stop this nonsense. That said Aus and NZ are always 1 step ahead and have been since the Mal Meninga days.

  • Comment number 25.

    I don't get this cross-code hostility. There has been some cross-pollenation between the Codes in NZ and the results I think benefit both sports.

    As for the 4 nations, that hiding delivered the weekend before last was ugly to behold and I suspect the Aussies will have their tails up. Having said that I think Kiwis possibly cope better with conditions here in the UK. If they can make the Final then I'll be relatively happy. If they can win it then it's time to but a Lotto ticket.

  • Comment number 26.

    Slightly off topic with the Union/league bashing, all I will say on that matter is watch the Many v Warriors NRL Grand Final. Simply the best 80 minutes of sport I've ever seen and a game that blew the RU World cup out of the water.

    Trouble with the NRL final for and England RL fan is that both Manly and NZ Warriors would beat England. We do look a better team than last yeat but we are still off the pace.

    Only one change I would make, is Sinfield out and Widdop in. Sinfield has had more chances at international level and enough and has only ever played well at hooker for England. And don't make me laugh by saying he's is a lose forward...

  • Comment number 27.

    I wrote a reply to the first post but it didn't appear, I was not abusive so don't know what happened to it. As for England, we will have to improve on the performance against France game last weekend, and the England Knights scored more points against a similar France side the week before, so maybe some more of those players should have been picked in the final squad. Hopefully the coach will prove all us doubters wrong.

  • Comment number 28.

    27. At 14:36 27th Oct 2011, UnlessI'mVeryMuchMistaken wrote:
    I wrote a reply to the first post but it didn't appear, I was not abusive so don't know what happened to it. As for England, we will have to improve on the performance against France game last weekend, and the England Knights scored more points against a similar France side the week before, so maybe some more of those players should have been picked in the final squad. Hopefully the coach will prove all us doubters wrong.






    Coach will turn it round based on what ?

    His coaching skills at Bradford maybe ?

  • Comment number 29.

    #26 I agree with you on the point about Sinfield. But we may as well bash our heads against a brick wall as some players will be included regardless and for some reason one such player is Sinfield. He's a talented club player but he isn't an international 6 or loose. For some reason McNamara appears to like Roby at 9 for the full 80 which I think is a bit much at international level given the amount of work a hooker has to get through and so from my POV it would be worth spelling Roby and Sinfield at 9 to create diversity in the game. Both are capable of running the show if need be as both have been doing so for their respective club teams all season.

  • Comment number 30.

    Anything less than a victory in this tournament for the top three teams is a failure. Australia clearly understand this, the Kiwis definitely won't settle for simply "making the final", but i'm not sure England believe this. This needs to be instilled in every England player - last years "no expectations" rubbish from McNamara is the sure-fire sign of a poor coach, and the performances proved it.

    Hope Wales perform creditably for their nation. At least their position will be equal or better to the Wales team at the RUWC :P

  • Comment number 31.

    One more thing, I hope the BBC give the tournament enough respect to be shown on the main BBC Sport page - it wasn't last year.

  • Comment number 32.

    I am from a Union background and consider myself a supporter of Union first and foremost. But I have never looked down my nose at League the way so many (sadly do) - I grew up watching the great Wigan, St Helens and Leeds teams of the early 1990s on the BBC and I have always had massive respect for the athleticism and skill of League. (In my opinion neither code has got the game *quite* right, but it's interesting watching them try to work it out).

    So I will be there at Wembley to support England. If I'm honest I think we'll do well to be competitive with Aus & NZ, never mind win - but sometimes sport can surprise you. Give it your best shot lads.

  • Comment number 33.

    Very much looking forward to the 4 Nations as I have never really beena ble to see how England cope on an international stage. I presume everything is on SKY again?? Absolutely gutted the Grand Final isn't one of those things terrestrial TV has to provide but then again that might be down to any money SKY is providing for the RL.

    On the tiresome 'which code is best debate' I have a pretty neutral view as I wasn't brought up playing rugby but used to watch 6 Nations and Challeneg cup with my Dad. I always thought League was far more exciting to watch but as someone alluded to above it isn't really an international sport which is why your average sports fan watched Union instead!!

    If you don't have a club to get behind you find you only support England properly and since 6 Nations is on TV it helps with gaining extra fan base. I wil also add that 2003 did a lot for Union but I think the last decade has well and trully removed every vistage of enjoyment out of it!!

  • Comment number 34.

    #32 As a League supporter I feel likewise. The two codes have diverged to such an extent now that they are hardly recognisable as the same sport! But for the shape of the ball and posts I'm not sure they would be identified as such. Good on you for going to Wembley though. I just hope enough people manage to get down there to provide a decent atmosphere! The RFL is taking a massive risk.

    #33 Not strictly true about League not being an international sport. Until probably the 1970s (those who know better will correct me), GB was the dominant League team internationally. Lots of things influenced English League's international demise, and now England are behind both Australia and New Zealand. I think the only thing that would see the tide begin to turn is a series win, preferably on home soil. However, although the standard is very basic at present, League is now being played in more countries than ever before and it was encouraging to see the USA qualifying recently for the World Cup comp in 2013.

  • Comment number 35.

    The England games are split between Sky and BBC wirral18. England/Wales BBC , England/Australia BBC/Sky , England/New Zealand Sky

    see http://englandrl.co.uk/article.php?id=23128

  • Comment number 36.

    @35

    That is great news. Not so sure about the games being held at Wembley though. Surely it had to be Old Trafford?? What was the RL's reason behind venue other than that Wembley desperately needs the funds??

    @34

    As a mere 24 yr old I can only go on what I know and I agree about it could to see USA qualifying. Definitely need the French to continue their growth and I would agree with an earlier posting questioning why they weren't put in the 4 Nations and make home nations GB??

  • Comment number 37.

    I'm really looking forward to this series. I have tickets for the KC game with 99 of my fellow Rovers supporters in the North Stand and I hope to make the final, regardless of who gets there.

    A few points I'd like to make on the squad.

    1) I think Jack Reed will show the English public just how good he is this series. I've watched him on Premier Sports all year and he has been giving the Matt Cooper and the like the runaround, earning big praise from the likes of Ray Warren and Phil Gould, who have dubbed him 'Jumping' Jack Reed.

    2) Many have suggested that Kevin Sinfield has failed to prove he is international quality. How people measure that amount of quality on the international scene really depends on how players fare against Aus and NZ. I reckon he has done fairly well in previous years and was excellent at 9 at Elland Road in '09. He is deserving at one last shot but at 30/31-years of age, it could be one of his last.

    3) This will be Morley's and Peacock's last hurrah so let's all get behind them one last time!

    4) Widdop is probably our best player. He works with 2 of the best players on the planet and has come from a makeshift full back to a secure 'five-eighth' in a little under a year. I personally would start with him but I think Mac has chosen Chase because Sinfield is at 6.

    5) We must start believing in our own abilities on home soil. As supporters, lets rip it up and give the lads all the support we can.

    COME ON ENGLAND!

  • Comment number 38.

    #36 Wales won the European comp last year to qualify for this year's Four Nations. They beat France. As it turns out, France would have been stronger this season than Wales but that is because the Dragons players are all playing this year whereas last year a lot of them dropped out. Personally I am very happy supporting England rather than GB as except in the Olympics, GB no longer really exists in a sporting capacity. I am English and therefore feel very comfortable supporting England. I think the split into home nations originally was to facilitate a Sport England grant. Should Ireland, Scotland and Wales ever reach the standard of England then there could be some good contests between the home nations but that is looking a long way ahead, if it happens at all.

  • Comment number 39.

    SaintDi @ #34 - obviously League has a long history at Wembley so from that perspective it is good to see England playing there, but I agree that it is a risk and I would have thought that one match could have been played at e.g. Old Trafford.

    The codes have certainly diverged, but I think Union has become more league-like since 1995, at least in fits and starts. The rise of Union sevens (arguably a new code in its own right) is certainly helping push Union leaguewards IMO. Union still has far too many scrums and line-outs - no question about that - but on the other hand I have heard a few League adherents over the years regret the disappearance of contested scrums, and mauls. Imagine a parallel universe where there had only ever been one code......

    Should the Four Nations pick a fourth country (probably France) and stick with it until they are brought "up to speed" (as happened in Union), or continue to keep the fourth spot up for grabs? I can see the merits of both. Perhaps a Five Nations would be preferable - except then of course it would be treading on the World Cup's toes. Interesting at least - I hope League can continue to expand its international dimension. Replacing GB with its constituent nations was definitely a positive move.

  • Comment number 40.

    Sorry, didn't mean to de-capitalise League in my last post - been a long day...

  • Comment number 41.

    I like watching League when it's own but prefer watching Union when it's a live event - pardon for the ignorance but something I think League is like 13 Centre's going for it (and yeah I know RL players are probably fitter than RU ones) but I digress.

    I think the 4 Nations works although the main issue as far as I can see is that it's hard to get excited when 3 of those 4 nations will in all likelyhood be 3 of the 4 World Cup semi-finalists (with luck for England any way). It's kind of like what the ICC Champions Trophy is in cricket - a World Cup-lite sort of competion.

    Maybe the bext thing would be a 2-year League format for World Cup purposes where you have the bext 6 teams in the world play home and away over two years?

  • Comment number 42.

    Gotta be Australia's to lose. As usual, England and the Kiwis will be competing for the title of second best side in the world.

    When are the games on by the way - didn't realise some of them were on terrestrial TV

    http://outspokenrabbit.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 43.

    When I saw the comments by "peopleshernandez" this morning, I was absolutely fuming and disgusted but couldn't reply as I had to set up an account and go to work. However, I think his/her initial statement was something like "who cares about Rugby League." Well, I'll tell you who cares, the thousands of people who watch our great game each week both at live matches and on television, the increasing number who play the game across the country - yes, across the country, our fathers, mothers, grandparents and great grandparents who supported the game from its birth in northern communities over a 100 years ago. To say who cares totally direspects a large portion of the present and past population of this country and is an absolute disgrace! As well as being an enjoyable spectacle, in years gone by, people supported and played Rugby League because it was part of their community and it gave them an opportunity to express their pride in their town or city. The author of the initial comment clearly understands very little about our country's culture and history.

    Anyway , the rant over, I would like to make a few considered comments on the 4 nations and the RL/RU debate:-

    1. It seems to me that we are a nation desperately seeking success on the sports field. The football team is a disaster made up of overpaid primadonnas, we have a good cricket team ( I appreciate we got hammered in the recent one day series in India) and the RU team has proved to be a total flop at the recent Rugby Union World Cup. However, I would say that one area that the RU has been particularly successful has been tapping into our patriotic fervour and that has paid dividends. I think it is quite interesting that RL seemed to start as a club/town game and is trying to build up the national profile whereas RU did it the other way round.

    2. I think it is also interesting that we seem to perform better at RU against southern hemisphere teams. I think this is because there is more opportunity to break up the game, kick and generally disrupt the flow of play. In other words, there isn't the same requirement to defend or attack full on for 80 minutes. It is this requirement which tests us and has ultimately undermined our national RL teams in recent years - in my opinion.

    As far our chances, I think we have a decent side - its just that the Aussies have an even better one.

  • Comment number 44.

    beardsmoreforengland @ #39 - sevens do seem to have been a successful innovation and that in part will be because Union know how to do these innovations well. They organise them well, market them well and fund them well. League suffers for its governing body really and for the lack of money in the sport. So its own 'lite' version of nines while fun to watch hasn't taken off in the same way, although touch and tag are doing very well. I can't comment on whether nines takes Union closer to League or not simply because I have never watched a nines match although Leaguies I know who have watched a nines match have enjoyed it, so it does sound like there is a commonality there.

    On the point about contested scrums, the Leaguies you will have heard bemoan their demise are either traditionalists (conservative with a small c, something which will be reflected in all areas of their lives!) or of a certain age who hark back to a golden era which although it existed, did so when TVs were scarce and the game was only really played in the north of England. Neither is true anymore but scrums can still be contested in League. There are occasions when a team will push and win the ball against the head, and this is great if it's your team! But on the whole they are a good way of restarting the game to spark creative play. Some fantastic moves originate with a scrum. Of course whether they do or not depends on the skill of the players and coach. But while I don't want to return to the days of cauliflower ears, broken necks and having a snooze while the ref is repositioning a bunch of grunting big blokes (sorry, couldn't resist indulging in a bit of facetiousness there!), I do want to keep the scrum. And I do want the possibility of it being contested also retained. Personally, I can't see Union ever doing away with lineouts, contested marathon scrums or mauls because those are the elements of rugby that make it the Union code. It's a much more technical version than League, League being the more athletic and pacey of the two. Contrary to popular belief among some Unionites, League is also very tactical but more subtle than Union simply because it is less technical.

    As to your point about the Four Nations. I think the idea about competing for the fourth spot was to encourage emerging nations. Granted, it won't encourage Wales when they are hammered into the ground by New Zealand and Australia but it shows those in the country who want to take up the sport that there is a chance they will play on the big stage one day. It is important to have a pathway to international achievement I think. The same is done in the southern hemisphere where the Pacific Island nations fight it out for the fourth spot when the Four Nations are held down under (every other year). It's a good idea but at present does mean that at least one team gets hammered. Still, wasn't that the case with Italy in RU at one time? Yet they can now compete.

    I do agree with you about League replacing GB with the home nations. A lot of Leaguies are against it but then League is built on conflict and tradition so these things take time. Should England shock the world and win the Four Nations, I'm quite sure those very same League fans will declare the move to be the best ever!

  • Comment number 45.

    Oops, I meant to speak of sevens in my first paragraph and not nines! It's late and I'm getting my numbers mixed up ...

  • Comment number 46.

    The debate as to which is the superior rugby code should not exist. Union is played in more countries and is more popular globally. Anyone seen the world cup in league? Utterly pointless.

    It's a sport that Union has left behind and continues to be watched by some people in north England and a few states in Aus and NZ. Speak to anyone else in the world about Rugby and they will assume you mean Union.

    It's not that League is not a good sport, it is in my view but the League people need to open eyes, remove the chip and think why it is less popular.

    Why watching men jump on top of each other for a few minutes at a time in Union is more interesting to most than continual attacking rugby in League I don't know. Should it be? Probably not but it is and all the statistics back this up.

    Perhaps it's the variety in Union that after pointless tedious kicking etc suddenly open rugby is a joy to watch. Perhaps it's the comparative rarity of a try that makes in more of a novelty. After all why is football more popular than basketball when baskets are scored every half minute and goals are sometimes not scored during an entire match?

    My own view is the endless repetition of rugby league is it's undoing. Run forward , get tackled six times hand ball over then other team does the same.

    Mature, balanced and educated responses only. I am dealing with facts here so please don't come back and say "league is better cos I say it is" when the facts don't support it.

  • Comment number 47.

    46.At 06:19 28th Oct 2011, stevieeng34 wrote:
    I love the way you end you post with, "Mature, balanced and educated responses only", the words hypocritical (insert expletive) spring to mind here, but I'll try and be a little more balanced and mature with my response than you were with your patronising post.

    The main reasons why Union is more popular than League are fairly easy to grasp and most are historical:
    The 'amateur' staus of Union automatically meant that it was NEVER truly amateur, players always got 'gratuities' in one form or another, but by being honest about payments, League was frowned upon by huge numbers of hypocritical, holier than though public school types, the ones happy to 'gift' those who stayed in the union, so automatically a large chunk of players and fans were actively against the sport.

    League was destroyed in France by the Vichy government, at the time it was easily the biggest sport over there, but they didn't like it because of its socialist roots, so they stole all its assets, money, grounds, equipment etc. and gave them all to Union, the players themselves were banned from playing League and forced to play Union if they wanted to play any rugby at all.
    None of the assets were ever given back, no apologies were ever made and right through to the end of the '80s, they weren't even allowed to call themselves 'rugby' teams and even though the sport refused to die, it still hasn't recovered to its prewar levels.

    Most importantly though is the approach both sports had to the importance of national and club matches. League has always been a club first game at the heart of local communities, which may be great at keeping the hardened fan, but no good at picking up fairweather fans.
    Contrast that to Union, where up until very recent times, was all about the international game, filling giant stadia with fans who'd watch England, Wales atc. every time they played; as much because of national pride as anything else; but rarely if ever, watched a club game.
    Both codes have changed their philosophies over the last decade or so as more and more money is thrown at them, but Union already had the fans where they really mattered, after all, international rivalry grips far more people than local rivalry ever can.

    I'm sorry for my long post, but certain things needed to be made clear and as for the 'which is the better code' question, they are both great games but very different, I personally prefer league, I also prefer Test cricket to any other form of the game, it's all about personal preference.
    The one thing I can't abide though, is people trying to claim someing is 'better' just because it's more popular, that would mean that JK Rowling is the best author of the last couple of decades, 'Thriller' is the best album ever and a hamburger is best ultimate meal.

  • Comment number 48.

    Firstly why does one sport even have to be "the best". Surely all sports have good and bad points and you get good and bad games in all of them. I watch football, union and league and genuinely believe league serves up better games on a more frequent basis. The tragedy is it isn't marketed enough. Rob Burrows try in the Grand Final should have been played repeatedly as one of the great pieces of sporting skill this year.

    Secondly if the argument is the most popular sport is the best then surely football is the best full stop and cricket as the second most popular sport in the world comes second. Rugby of either code isn't anywhere near as popular as those two sports so does that mean we should just give up both sports and play those two? Of course not. The fact Guiness Premiership and Super League teams have attendances that are more akin to League One football doesn't deflect away from the point that thousands of people enjoy both sports in addition or opposed to the two larger sports.

    The global appeal argument is an interesting one. FIFA has more members than the United Nations and again dwarfs anything either code has. Football is truly a global game to an extent that no other sport is. Union is more like Test cricket with about 10 top international teams that are a step above everybody else. League has only three international teams of quality but the strength in depth of Australia (and to a lesser extend NZ) is phenomenal. These teams can afford to lose top, top players and still be competitive by bringing through new stars. This is partly to do with the way the U18 and U21 competitions are integrated with the Top Grade games and is surely a lesson all sports including football.

  • Comment number 49.

    36 & 39, for me personally I think Wembley is a great idea- if the RL bods are looking to expand the game and get more people involved in the South of the country.
    I'm in Dorset and I saw a post from a Reading footie fan who's also going to the double-header and I can't help thinking we'd not have made the trip to OT, which is kinda already in League heartland.
    Hopefully attendance will be good and the Welsh rough up the Kiwis for a bit! I can't see us getting past the Aussies, having watched the Origin series they'll just be too quick, too skilful and will probably beat us by 10. I'd love to be wrong though!
    48 totally agree although I was rooting for Saints in the GF, Burrow's try was amazing- if that'd been Rooney, Jonny Wilkinson etc etc we'd see it on every other ad break and the sports writers would be calling for MBEs and knighthoods!

  • Comment number 50.

    I don't think popularity is really an indicator of quality. Engelbert Humperdink kept John Lennon's imagine off no. 1 in the UK. Is the former a better musician of the latter? Similarly, I think Mr Blobby (whilst being England RU's 1st choice hooker - JOKE!!) knocked Oasis' Wonderwall off no. 1. You'll catch my drift ....

    As alluded to by other posters, RU has always had a bigger draw as a national sport due to regional and class differences in the UK. RU traditionally (after polo?) has always been the most elitist of sports. RU playing public school boys have graduated the media and finance, providing RU with the favourable media exposure and sponsorship that RL has never been able to compete with. RU fans are far more patriotic, as they have been part of an establishment that has always benefitted them. RL fans have always been about their immediate communities as is natural for more working class people. There is barely a Scottish accent of a Mc-prefixed surname in the Scotland RU team. English middle class people have been swept along with Ru since their world cup win, as not only are you supporting a winning sport, you are showing yourself to be more discerning by supporting a more 'sophisticated sport'. It's like shopping at marks and spencers instead of Tesco. It's affirmational/ asspirational.

    There isn't the same cross-code hostility in more class-less societies like NZ and Oz. It's essentially class-antagonism in the UK. The first poster looked down his 'snooty' nose at RL, the response was reverse snobbery.

    Let's hope England put on a damn good show on the 4 Nations, with hope-of-all hopes us winning the World Cup in 2003. Then by becoming a fan of RL you ate being a winner, and inherent class prejudice will start to fade

  • Comment number 51.

    That should have been the 2013 RLWC. Note RL is willing to empahise which code it's WC is!

  • Comment number 52.

    Personally I watch both codes, enjoyed the rugby world cup but prefer league. There are merits for both games and union is more technical but to be honest conversations about which is better are quite boring.

    Hope England put in a good showing and play some good rugby. Expectations should be realistic some of the players for Austrailia are world class and Lockyer could be considered an all time great (regardless of results hopefully he gets a good send off from english crowds). Not sure about NZ they are World cup holders and current 4Nations holders but not the best travellers. We do seem to do well against them on home soil.

    Looking at the squad I think most selections are fair. We look to have a big strong mobile forward pack with players that can play big minutes. I would have preferred Carvell on the bench so we have a rotation of 4 props rather than 3. We also look to have some exciting quick backs for a change, i like the Hull FC left side combination as they will have a good understanding.

    My biggest problem is the halves. We chop and change far too often so we build no combinations or understanding. Last year tomkins played at 6, o'loughlin did. robinson played games at 7 and 9. We need a settled link if it doesnt work with Chase and Sinfield on Saturday stick with it, they both in form players. Sinfield is there to direct the team around the pitch and Chase is there to offer some flair and creative spark of the cuff. him operating on the left with Tomkins coming round the back on the right off Sinfield we could cause a few problems.

    Hopefully it will be a good tournament and even if Wales get some points scored against them hopefully it will develop a few of there younger players like Kear, Dudson, Flower and LLoyd.

    Players to look out for:

    Obvious candidates Slater, Marshall, Tomkins

    Newer players coming to make a mark: Uate, Mataulino (he can hit), Widdop

  • Comment number 53.

    Some good points about the 4N and team selection.

    It's grim down South, would love to watch NZ v Australia. Enjoy the test one and all and come on you Kiwis!

  • Comment number 54.

    I went to the match at Warrington and was hoping for better from both teams. Sorry; I was hoping that New Zealand would smash Australia! Alas. Phil Bentham was poor in that he let too much go on the floor, didn't pull back offsides and allowed too many high tackles. That approach turned the game into a slugfest rather than an entertaining spectacle. But even so, it was NZ who were disappointing. They bombed some good try scoring opportunities and Benji wasn't at his electric best.

    I did enjoy watching the haka though!

  • Comment number 55.

    For goodness sake, I watch the finest League known to man here in Oz, with the State of Origin arguably the highest League standard on earth including Test matches; however, in my opinion, Union eclipses that one-dimensional game. Yes, League is exciting if excitement is only derived from tries but excitement for me and most of the world's rugby-watching population lies within the scrum confrontation (a non-event fiasco in League) and other set plays as well as back play (however rare for some sides) in Union. Draughts versus chess? I'll take the latter, thanks very much.

  • Comment number 56.

    SaintDi, yes it did become a bit of a slugfest last night, but a slow game of rugby league is still quicker than a quick game of rugby union - only my opinion of course but it's important not to confuse opinions with facts. Nowadays, comparing league and union is like comparing league and the NFL, they are two different games.

  • Comment number 57.

    Lohengrin, wow, what an original post! I have never heard such views expressed before. I won't reply in kind, can't be bothered.

    Union wums stick to Union forums please and vice versa of course.

    For more rational folks out there, are you more or less optimistic about Englands chances after last nights result?

  • Comment number 58.

    Why on earth were the neutrals last night supporting the Kiwis? Do you feel sorry for them in some way? The Australians didn't play that well last night and still scored in the first minute, then to go on and with 26-12! Fair play to NZ for putting up a fight and (slightly) redeeming themselves for the humiliating loss in Newcastle a fortnight ago.
    I hope England turn up for this and make a decent game of it but the Australians, not to mention the NRL, are in a different class!

    #46 - "league is played only in a few states" - are you kidding? League, along with Aussie rules, are the nation's number one sport! Hence why we see the NRL/Australian team in a totally different class to us. In NZ rugby is their number one sport, and hence why they are currently number one, Australia are teaching the rest of us how to play league!

    Predictions: Winners - Australia, Runners-up - England (just)

  • Comment number 59.

    #58 - No, us neutrals don't feel sorry for New Zealand. We just don't want Australia to win anything!

  • Comment number 60.

    #57 - I can't speak for anyone else but after today's showing by England I feel pretty much the same about their chances as I did before the comp kicked off. Namely, Australia will win it!

 

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