St Helens coach Daniel Anderson was in the media recently, having a little whinge at the Great Britain training days for robbing him of his best players in the build up to Super League games. Of course, how Great Britain perform on the international stage is of no concern to Anderson. He's a Kiwi after all even though he lives in the UK and works with some of the national side's leading players on a daily basis. But from a wider perspective, it seemed indicative of the attitude in this country towards representative games from those involved with clubs.
Wherever you stand, the fact remains that if GB are going to be successful in the Tri Nations later this year they need to be able to perform as a team, rather than just a collection of talented individuals. Every last advantage that can be gained in terms of preparation has to be taken, and that includes getting the squad together on a regular basis to train and play during the course of the season.
There has been talk of playing fixtures against a Rest of the World or Overseas XIII, but would those generate the necessary intensity? The opening exchanges of the recent XXXX Test were fierce, but would you still have got that if the Kiwis had been representing some artificial, created entity rather than their country? Regular games against the French have also been on the agenda, and their results in recent years against touring sides create a strong case for at least one game per season between the two countries.
Of course, space then has to be found in the calendar for these fixtures. And by space, I mean free weekends to allow adequate time for travel and preparation. Expecting players to represent their clubs on a Friday or Saturday then back up to play for their country on a Tuesday night after two training sessions just simply is not good enough. Timing also affects attendance. Midweek representative games don’t attract crowds, as witnessed by the turnout at St Helens, at Headingley for the game against New Zealand "A" a couple of years ago and the last "Origin" game at Odsal. Playing in big stadiums in big atmospheres is an integral part of the international learning experience.
This is where the potential expansion of Super League comes into the representative equation. An expanded league of 14 teams means 26 weekly rounds, two less than the current format. The two free weekends could then be used to play France, or with some co-operation from the NRL with the scheduling of their bye weeks possibly a Kiwi side with a full New Zealand Warriors contingent.
Following the announcement earlier this season of the clarified roles of Super League and the RFL in the organisation and running of the competition, perhaps it’s time the two got their heads together and discarded club self interest in favour of giving the international side a better chance to be successful? I’m sure no one will be forgiven however for not holding their breath.