Great Britain Lions: Will rugby league's most iconic brand truly reflect the four home nations?

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Seven great GB tries against Australia & New Zealand

The return of the Great Britain jersey is momentous, but it's been a long time coming.

It has been well over a year since the idea of a 'GB' tour down under was first mooted by the current Rugby League International Federation chief executive Nigel Wood, on a 5 Live Rugby League podcast.

But negotiations with the New Zealand Rugby League, Tonga RL and, most trickily, the predominantly Australia-based National Rugby League clubs by whom the majority of players are employed and have to agree to a release of players, was only concluded this week.

Squad selection could be controversial. Great Britain will essentially be the current England side under a different name.

Realistically Wales and St Helens back-rower Morgan Knowles would be the only non-English player with a chance of a call up, and the Rugby Football League's director of rugby, Kevin Sinfield, has ruled out the selection of any token Welsh, Irish or Scottish player for the sake of multi-nationalism.

He told this week's podcast: "I think it's important we take that out of it. We'd love to have a spread of every nation, of every nation to be represented.

"But I think it's really important we don't devalue the shirt and give out token shirts and token GB caps.

"I'm sure nobody would want to go on that tour as a token player. It's important we represent the players who have gone before in the right way and represent the jersey in the right way. Show it the respect that it deserves," he added.

Heritage players up for selection

Maurie Fa'asavalu
Tony Smith's decision to select Maurie Fa'asavalu in the last Great Britain side that faced New Zealand in 2007 was not universally well received, despite the Samoan qualifying on residency rules

However, the GB selectors, headed up by coach Wayne Bennett, will look at so-called heritage players for possible inclusion.

In the past, heritage players - players not born in the country they represent, but who qualify through parents, grandparents and residency - have been the mainstay of Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

But such selections have been rarer when it comes to England selection. Aussie-born Chris Heighington - who qualified through his dad - is the most recent, winning seven caps, the last in 2017.

Sinfield, though, said that qualification route will be wide open. That may be unpopular with many, but it's a rule that other nations and other sports use regularly.

"Yes, is the honest answer. We're really keen for this tour to be a success and we'll pick the best possible player in each position," he said.

"It's fair to say that everyone who qualifies will get their chance to put their hand up and will be open for selection.

"No decisions have been made at this stage, no selection will be made until right at the back-end of the season. And everyone from all over the world who qualifies will be considered."

That will be of interest to the likes of Salford half-back Jackson Hastings, who told the BBC two weeks ago that he would consider putting his hat into the ring. Warrington stand-off Blake Austin and St Helens full-back Lachlan Coote, who qualifies for and has played for Scotland, may also be in the reckoning.

One-off tours not a replacement for the home nations

As it stands, this is the only planned GB tour.

Next year Australia come to this country to play a three-match series against England, and the World Cup 2021 sees all the home nations compete as separate entities.

But Sinfield has his own opinions as to the type of schedule he'd like to see for Great Britain in the future.

"I think probably every four years is about right. In my own opinion, I'd do it the year after a World Cup," he said.

"For players, the World Cup is the most monumental thing in their careers. Some of them, who are at a certain age, know that four years to continue playing is too long to go on representing their country and a lot of them retire.

"But to run a GB side and then have a two-year build up to the next World Cup would be the right position."