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England's Crabtree anticipates new Antipodean test

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George Riley George Riley | 11:47 UK time, Friday, 3 June 2011

England's inaugural International Origin match against the Exiles at Headingley on 10 June should provide the toughest test possible for the home side and their coach Steve McNamara outside of a major competition.

Former New Zealand coach Brian McClennan's Antipodean all-star squad has been specially shaped to comprise the best, most watchable New Zealand and Australian players in Super League.

Supporters have voted for 13 of the squad, with coach McClennan choosing the rest.

Next Friday sees the birth of an annual fixture which I am convinced will be a success, and speaking to the players involved, they are right behind the concept too.

I called one of the leading lights in England's powerful pack - giant prop forward Eorl Crabtree - to gauge his sense of anticipation around the fixture.

The 6ft 7in Crabtree has been flying for Huddersfield this season, and is rightly recognised as one of four in-form Giants who have been key to their club's terrific start to the season.

Eorl Crabtree in England training

Crabtree's Huddersfield side are level on points with Super League leaders Warrington
'Big Eorl' is a real character, an unmistakeably gigantic frame with trademark ridiculous ponytail. The nephew of wrestling great Big Daddy (that was all he got asked about in the early part of his career), he is not a man with whom you would mess. When I rang him this week he was smashing balls off a driving range in Huddersfield with specially lengthened clubs.

"I'm like Tiger Woods, I'm getting gradually worse at this game," he told me, before we talk rugby league.

"Pulling on the England jersey is when you realise you're at the top of your game and fulfilling your potential . That fills you with so much pride," he said.

"It's great getting to finals and trying to win things with your club but the ultimate goal for every player should be representing his country."

I spoke to one member of the England squad recently, who told me he was not too fussed about playing for his country, he could take it or leave it. Crabtree completely disagrees.

"This is something I've been striving for for a while and I've wanted a bit of recognition for the things I'm doing at Huddersfield, and for the fact that Huddersfield are doing so well," 'Big Erol' reflected.

Crabtree also said that he hopes the Exiles concept is just one of many more innovations from the sport's governing body to try and give the sport more prominence on the international map.

"I think the whole notion of allowing the fans to vote for players is brilliant. We need to do things like this more in rugby league - we need to be a bit different as we are so far behind football we don't really stand a chance. You have to make an extra effort to draw people in by making it more interesting. "

Far from being an unnecessary, contrived extra fixture in a full-on season, I view the competitive nature of this as one that can only help strengthen the international game too. And surely that is what we want?

We can rave about how fierce, how entertaining, how brilliant the Super League product we watch each week is, but it is on the international stage where we need to see progress. Something has to be done to make the international game more competitive, rather than an annual face-off between the Aussies and Kiwis, and I see this as a good start.

"The Exiles will be some team," Crabtree stated. "We could get beat, we could actually get embarrassed if we don't show up. This is just the kind of competition we need to progress and see which players deserve to play for us."

I shall be honest, I miss the old Origin games between Yorkshire and Lancashire that admittedly never really took off and were scrapped in 2003. Crabtree said that remains one of his big regrets. "I'm gutted that I never had the opportunity to play for Yorkshire against Lancashire in the old Origin series," he told me. "I think that is a perfect way to have top England players fighting between themselves for a place in the international team. I'm a proud Yorkshireman and we all love the chance to smash up the Lancashire lads!"

Realistically, I cannot see it happening. Logistically there is arguably not enough room in the fixture list, and the bigger picture is that with the Rugby Football League driving to expand the game into new areas, the game's bosses would be loathe to refocus on an M62 corridor rivalry. And how do you explain to the top players in Cumbria and London that a Roses Origin match effectively serves as an England trial? Crabtree though is convinced it could work.

"I'm sure there's a way, and it would be spectacular. If you want it enough there's a way. The RFL were desperate to make us play an extra game at the Millenium Stadium or Murrayfield and they've managed to fit that in without a problem."

Crabtree's own inclusion in this England squad is testament to the progress he has made as a player. A bit of a freak show when he burst onto the scene with his enormous frame and flowing locks, the 28-year-old is now a real enforcer, with unexpectedly good hands for a big man. As one of four Giants in McNamara's thinking, it also shows that Hudderfield's hard work behind the scenes - as outlined in this blog two years ago - continues to pay off.

A tip of the hat too at this point to Warrington who have six players included, and I am especially pleased for my pal Ryan Atkins who has grabbed his place back after he was dropped from the elite squad.

The headline inclusion for England is Crabtree's Huddersfield team-mate Danny Brough, a Scotland international at the World Cup in 2008. Now his exquisite kicking game has prompted the England call he hoped for when he announced his change of allegiance.

Danny Brough in action for Bradford

Brough has turned his back on Scotland

"He's been fantastic - you just give him the ball and he makes the right call," commented Crabtree, who believes you have to play for one of the big teams these days to get recognised by England.

"The problem when you play for a team that doesn't finish high up like Danny has been before he came here, is that you don't get a look in for an international call. That's happened to me before Huddersfield started going places. That's the way it is and always has been. I've been told before I've not made the England squad because I don't have enough experience and that comes off the back of not playing for a club team that's competing at the top level. "

He may well have a point. Super League's top five clubs account for 21 of McNamara's 22-man squad, and each of those named in the final 17 on 10 June should expect the game to be a real bruiser.


  • Comment number 1.

    personally im looking forward to the exiles game but i do worry about the simple fact rugby league fans tend to be very small minded and quick to abandon something.
    the england need intense competion to develop the needed grit to win at international level.
    this combined with a more cenrtalised and professional set up will bring success, in time.
    i just worry that maybe if england lose this game or if the don't instantly compete and win in this years four nations, the fans might turn against the exiles game and the new set and demand it is scrapped.
    thats what happend to the roses match

  • Comment number 2.

    When will the powers that be realise that the reason Australia have such depth with regards to their international setup is that there is an annual 3 game series played between Queensland and New South Wales. Any true rugby league fan will tell you that they are the most intense games you will ever watch, the history of the series is such, that every player in Australia aspires to be a winning State of Origin player. The Exiles game is a welcome step in the right direction. The RFL needs to build this up and make it into a must watch game with the aim of developing this format into a three game series that will be the mid season highlight for all rugby fans to gather and celebrate the best of Superleague battling it out for supremacy. Lets put to bed the notion that its the exiles that make Superleague what it is, and shape the series into one that all players in the Superleague can aspire to, and make the competition so attractive, that overseas players know that they have a chance of being selected by the rugby fans.

  • Comment number 3.

    fair comment will.I think the exiles concept is sound and if it turns out to be a success as we all hope it will be, then maybe it could be turned into a 3 match series.State of origin as you say is cracking stuff but i still say that the majority of NRL players come to super league for the money mostly and leave a lot of their previous form behind them and can't be bothered half the time.

  • Comment number 4.

    How many exiles would be chosen for State of Origin if they had stayed in Aussie? Answer: none.

    I just hope England and McNamara in particular don't kid themselves into thinking otherwise.

    But I agree with the concept. Playing France was a complete waste of time.

  • Comment number 5.

    The player who doesn't care much about playing for England should immediately be dropped, no matter who he is.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hopefully this match will give the preparation that England needs in the 4 nations.

    I think its a shame that France no longer have a mid season international, they should of set one up against Wales, no doubt that would of been an excellent contest!

  • Comment number 7.

    This concept is probably the best that the British game can hope for but as has already been said the vast majority (almost all) of the exiles would not even be concidered for a spot in the State of Origin. That apart, its refreshing to hear a player with lots of pride and enthusiasm, I hope he can hold a spot and make an impact. The player that has made his lack of passion known should be exposed and outed or at the very least a quiet word to the people in charge so that they could vet him and act if necessary. I'd like to see Danny Brough try his hand in the NRL, I think he'd be the only halfback in recent years that could hold down a spot.

  • Comment number 8.

    4. At 04:07 4th Jun 2011, SouthsNZ wrote:
    How many exiles would be chosen for State of Origin if they had stayed in Aussie? Answer: none.

    Joel Monaghan and Luke O'Donnell played for NSW last year didn't they? Although they might still be out with injury. Leuleuai is a start for thw world champions and four nations champions, Matt King was an Aussie regular when he came over.

    It will be a good test and it's the best we can play again mid season unfortunately, the only think which has let down the match in my opinion is the lads in Aus haven't been allowed to come over, Burgess is injured and Ellis is only making his comeback tomorrow but is would have done Brough and Widdop no harm have some playing time together before the Autumn.

  • Comment number 9.

    When you consider Englands head coach isn't good enough to be a SL head coach, we're doomed against the Southern Hemisphere before he even names his 4Nations squad. The team he named against the Exiles is embarrasing to the point of resignation on his part. He had a great oppurtunity to blood young guys to see what they're made of before the big boys in the Autumn. Instead he names a dads army team to match the dads army opponents; how he expects to be taken seriously when he didn't even name a 5/8 is beyond me.

    I'll stop now as I'm sure you get my point!

  • Comment number 10.

    What has really annoyed me about this is the reaction of the Aussies. They tell us we are not up to scratch to play them, and then when we set up ammore intense mid-season game, they tell us that it's not a proper international and won't release Aussie based England players. Do they want us to play them following a meaningless mid-season game against France. We can't win (metaphorically of course, we are all pretty resigned to literally not winning), but this is a move in the right direction.

    Would have been great to have Brough and Widdop in tandem to build a relationship pre 4 nations. Without them I would have been fascinated to see how Lomax and Gaskell faired at the highest level, but Maccas squad won't allow.

    I agree it's a shame that France have been shunted aside as it could potentially impare their development. However, as suggested, a mid season game between them and Wales is a probably the right level for them both now, and given the progress of the catalans this year, the pre-4 Nations and in front of a French crowd in Auvignon should give England a much better work out than in Leigh last year.

    Finally (sorry to bang on) I entirely agree with Eorl and George about how innovative the RFL have been allowing fans to play the Exiles team. I'd love a similar concept to be rolled out for another newish flagship event, The Magic Weekend. You buys your ticket, you decide who you want your team to play, and all the other fixtures - the most voted for fixtures get selected. As a Wigan fan, do you want a demanding local derby against Saints, or let Sts and Warrington smash each other up while you have
    and have Wigan play a less demanding (with all due respect) but equally atmospheric derby versus new-boys Widnes? Fans have got their wish and had local derbies return to Magic, but uptake has still been poor, so here is a novel idea: play the local derbies locally! Wigan, Sts, Wire, Salford, Widnes and Crusaders (North Walians love LFC) at Anfield on Sat and Leeds, Bradford, Hudd, Cas, HKR and Hull FC (sorry Wakey) at Elland Rd/ Hillsborough on Sunday. Have Cats play Quins at some flashy French venue on the Friday night and you have a really exciting big kick off on the fans doorstep - half-empty stadiums like Cardiff and Edinburgh would be a thing of the past. And maybe make it a 4 pointer to really make it an important fixture. So do you want your biggest derby, or your best chance of 4 points and your rivals with the least? You decide ......

  • Comment number 11.

    League is a game where clubs are supported. It's only played to any sort of standard in 2 countries, hence the utter lack of interest in international fixtures, particularly when McNamara is left in charge.

    My only interest is which clubs players will be out injured for the next few weeks.

  • Comment number 12.

    Could you imagine if England had played the current New South Wales or Queensland teams? Carve up.

  • Comment number 13.

    I thought the Exiles game was a great match and I really enjoyed the event. Hopefully it will be held again next year but with a couple of tweeks. It really, really needs its own weekend when no league fixtures (from any league, not just Superleague) are held and it also needs to be an opportunity to showcase our best hopefuls rather than pretend to be a warm up for the Four Nations. It is way too early in the season to be that. We could have done with Lomax in the halves, for instance, as England desperately lacked zip and creativity. They lacked quite a bit actually and should have lost by at least one more try (Silverwood was a bit too casual there!). But the concept is a good one. I don't think we should have a series but just the one match, perhaps preceeded by a Knights match or a match between France and Wales, making it an International day (held on a Saturday somewhere other than the dreary Headingley!).

  • Comment number 14.

    SaintDi,headingley was chosen as venue because the RFL were not sure if this concept was going to capture the public's interest or not.14,000 isn't bad in a 20,000 capacity stadium.I see you call our stadium' dreary' well i'd expect that from
    supporters of a team that's having to play it's home games on someones elses pitch.

  • Comment number 15.

    Should of held it in Widnes, the home of the mighty.....................Sintellins!

    Back to the point,

    International RL in this country is a joke! Weve disbanded GB only for every man and his dog to decide they now want to play for England!

    How the "ACTUAL" english players can talk of pride in the shirt and playing for your country when all around them theyve got players who pick and choose when it suits them is embarassing!

    Steve Mcnamara says Brough is english, he was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England. But when he wasnt good enough he was Scottish eh Steve?

    Chris Bridge,
    Michael McIlorum,
    Ben Harrison, All Irish when theyre not good enough.

    Bring back GB and stop all this chopping and changing or else we'll continue to be a laughing stock!

  • Comment number 16.

    @stevierhino1 - Indeed, thanks to the credit crunch. But next season, you'll be eating your words. We'll be playing in the best stadium in Superleague.


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