Debunking The Myths About The Slow Death Of English Rugby League

New Zealand are the best Rugby League nation in the world, having proven it once again by beating Australia, on home soil, in a big final.

While Australia now has to face up to why it has been beaten by New Zealand, its fair to say that on any given day, there is very little between the two countries. Come this time next year, the results could easily be switched, with Australia beating New Zealand, and in sport, that is what you want, anyone can win on any given day.

Things are different for England however.

On the back of yet another disastrous tour of Australasia, which started with a lucky draw against the New Zealand Maori and ended with a lackluster win over a weakened and completely spent, semi professional Papua New Guinea side, England started its single week of introspective analysis.

I sat back and watched everyone from English fans, players, coaches, commentators and writers give their opinions on what was wrong with England, how to improve the English side and what the real distance was between them and the best in the world.

I saw many excuses for why England failed, yet again, and so I thought it was about time to look at many of the reasons being given and pick out which ones were wrong, and which ones were right.

We Can’t Compete Because We Don’t Have The Playing Numbers: Wrong
New Zealand is a country that has a population a little larger than Sydney. The number of Rugby League players in New Zealand is dwarfed by the playing numbers in Queensland.

When you look at the number of Samoans and Tongans competing in the NRL, and realize that there are more people living in Blacktown in Sydney’s western suburbs than both of those countries COMBINED, the numbers game that England say they are losing is just completely blown out of the water.

The fact of the matter is that two countries in the world are able to sustain fully professional Rugby League club competitions. Australia and England.

Going further…

If you looked at the number of people playing a sport, and how that relates to competing with other countries at international level….it would not account for why Australia is so high up on Olympic medal tallies. We’re a nation of just 21 million. There are countries we thrashed in the Olympics who have cities bigger than our entire population!

We Can’t Compete Because Soccer Takes Our Best Athletes: Wrong
If you look at the English Premier League, you quickly work out that the very elite players, well, they aren’t actually English most of the time. The best clubs, for the most part, are the best clubs because they buy in massive amounts of overseas talent.

Where am I going with this?

Well, when you look at the English Premier League, and you look at the pure athletes, do you see anyone that honestly looks like they should be playing Rugby League instead?

I remember Phil Gould saying a number of years ago that in Western Sydney Rugby League isn’t competing with Soccer for players. The two sports attract different types of people and different types of athletes.

Ryan Giggs is sometimes used as an example of the problem. One that got away. A former Rugby League junior who had to make a choice between sports, and went with the bigger soccer contract.

I’m a fan of Ryan Giggs, one of the few players I’ve enjoyed watching player. However, lets be honest here, does Ryan Giggs look like the type of bloke who could have been giving Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges or Shaun Kenny-Dowall any problems….ever?

Soccer is big in England. Its huge. The money is ridiculous! Rugby League does have a profile though, I was there to see it with my own eyes. At some point, choices do have to be made in a young athletes career, but the fact is, a young bloke built to play Rugby League, and a young bloke built to play Soccer, are two very different athletes and two very different people with very different mindsets.

We Can’t Compete Because Rugby Union Takes Our Best Athletes: Wrong
Chris Ashton can get all the accolades in Rugby Union he likes. After all, he grabbed hold of the ball and crossed that rarely used white thing that goes across the filed and put the ball down over it a few times.

He was a Rugby League player at one time, and lets face it, he wasn’t a great player even by English standards. I mean, its not like everyone knew he was going to be a star Rugby League player was it? He might have jagged a test jersey in Rugby League, but he was hardly a world beater.

When you look at the England Rugby Union team, do you honestly see some type of amazing athletes that would come into the English Rugby League would die for?

Shontayne Hape, a very, very average Kiwi Rugby League player, is a walk up start in the English Rugby Union test team! When he was playing Rugby League, he wasn’t some super athlete!

This idea is a flawed one. Yes, there are bigger financial rewards in Rugby Union compared to Rugby League, but I’m not seeing these amazing athletes with amazing skills that have been missed out on. England could take their pick of the best Rugby Union and Rugby League players, I think, if anything, the results would be catastrophically worse with Rugby Union players lining up against Australia and New Zealand in Rugby League.

Just look at the way Sonny Bill Williams is toying with the worlds best Rugby Union players right now!

We Can’t Compete Because We Lack A Sporting Culture: Wrong
Do you realize how many billions of pounds every year is spent in England on sport, whether it be playing or attending?

The amount of money the English Premier League generates could buy every single sporting competition in Australia, probably a few times over! Hell Manchester United could buy every single one of our Rugby League, Soccer, Rugby Union, AFL, Cricket, Basketball, Golfers and Swimmers and STILL have change left over to pay off Wayne Rooneys bill at the local brothel!

We Can’t Compete Because Of The Weather: Wrong
The way this goes is, the weather is horrible in England, and therefore people are less likely to go outside and kick a footy around or run or generally play sport.

Have you been to New Zealand?

We Can’t Compete Because Of The Salary Cap: Wrong
I personally don’t think the salary cap in Super League has any baring on what the top clubs in the competition spend. I think its just a figure they look to kind of aim for in what ever set of books they hand into the RFL, but lets face it, capped out Super League clubs like Wigan, Leeds, Warrington, Hull, Bradford and the like have always been able to find the space SOMEHOW when they wanted a player.

The argument is easily shot down in regards to the salary cap.

The NRL has a salary cap too, and its much more vigorously enforced. It covers 16 clubs, goes from the top grade, right through to junior levels, it has to fit in all the star players from Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, PNG and the like, it restricts salaries of star players, it distributes talent and it makes some clubs have to cut corners to get under it.

If England’s main opposition is also playing under a salary cap, but a much stricter one, how can that be an excuse?

We Can’t Compete Because Our Players Don’t Earn Enough: Wrong
The idea is that England players earn less than their Australian and New Zealand counterparts because the salary cap is so low.

The problem with this thinking is, you’re not measuring up like for like.

Why would an Super League club pay a mid range English Super League player the same money as a mid range NRL Australasian player, when the NRL player is going to be far superior to the English one?

Put it this way. If we pooled all the talent in the NRL and Super League into on draft. You took five Super League clubs, and five NRL clubs and allowed them to pick 25 players each. How many English players would get selected overall?

Not many.

The fact is, Australian and New Zealand players get paid more, because they are worth more. You get far more bang for your buck. Many English players earning a full time contract in Super League would only be amateur players over here.

Aside from all that, you then have to look at the salary cap again and a few home truths…

If a Super League clubs wants to hold into their star English player, they do. Every, single, time!

When the best players in the world were Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer, the best payed players by MILES were Paul Sculthorpe and Keiron Cunningham!

It’s just an argument that is so flawed on so many levels.

We Can’t Compete Because We Have Too Many Imports In Super League: Wrong
If you took the imports out of Super League tomorrow, you’d have enough decent talent left over to make about 3 Super League clubs!

Without imports, Super League would be such a low quality competition that it wouldn’t even be worth having. Unfortunately, because there is such a lack of English talent in the game, Super League now is completely reliant on imports to bolster playing standards.

It is horrible when you see a 30 year old Australian or a reserve grade Kiwi heading over to Super League to grab some easy money, but the fact is, if there was English talent there to fill that place, Super League clubs wouldn’t be importing players.

The other argument is that, if you look at the NRL, it is one of the most racially diverse sporting competitions in the world. We have players from everywhere competing in Australia. We don’t think of them as imports, and they don’t think of themselves as imports. We see the NRL as just one big Rugby League melting pot and the more, the merrier.

It certainly hasn’t hurt Australia having so many nationalities competing in our club competition, and if you look at New Zealands only professional club, it hasn’t hurt New Zealand Rugby League having Australian imports at their club.

On Pure Athleticism, We Can Not Compete With Australia And New Zealand: Wrong
Forget the ridiculous athletes like say Greg Inglis, Israel Folau….you know, the genetic freaks that are more of a lottery than anything else.

You get a bunch of English players from all levels, and put them alongside their Australian or New Zealand counterparts.

The English players are big bastards too! Its not like these are small guys up against big guys, the English players are all big dudes.

Are they as fit, lean, muscular or have the same endurance as the Australian and Kiwi players? No. However, thats not down to their athletic potential, that is flat out down to what they do with their athletic potential.

You take the worlds fastest man and have him training like a semi professional, he wouldn’t even be one of the top ten in the world! His athletic potential hasn’t changed, but because of a lower level of training, his athletic ability has.

English Rugby League does have the athletic potential to compete with Australia and New Zealand. There is NO doubt about that. Where they fall down is the training, English Rugby League players are not close to their Australian and New Zealand counterparts.

We Can’t Compete Because We Play By Different Rules: Wrong
The rules used in Test match football are the same used in Super League. In fact, only the NRL has slight technical differences in their rules, and Australia and New Zealand, without fail, play under the international rules at Test level. So this one is just dead in the water.

We Can’t Compete Because Australian Referee’s Screw Us Over: Wrong
As if Australian referee’s all exist to stop England dominating…

Australia and New Zealand have dominated England using English referee’s. England has not been able to beat Australia for close on 40 years using English referee’s, French referee’s, New Zealand referee’s and yes, Australian referee’s too.

Pointing to the referee for a game here or there, I’ll cop that. Sometimes a referee is just a disaster (Hello Tony Archer!). However, blaming them for nearly 40 decades of failure is just pathetic.

We Can’t Compete Because Out Club Competition Isn’t As Intense As The NRL: Right
If you suggest that over the course of a year, England best players play somewhere around 35-40 club games. They also play a couple of test matches in there against what I would term semi professional opposition, whether it be France or Wales they play.

Then, two games a year, they get thrashed by Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes the Kiwi’s don’t turn up, but when that happens, Australia just thrashes England twice.

You will learn more doing something 40 times a year then you will doing something just 2 times a year.

If Super League were of a higher standard, English players would be getting more intense football. More would be asked of them. Their strengths would need worked on to stay ahead of the opposition. Their weaknesses would be worked on or they would become a liability for their club.

They would be working hard 10 months a year, not to beat Australia, but to be better than their opposition at club level.

The microscope that the NRL puts players under is intense. Its amazing, every so often you’ll see a good player get completely dismantled by an opposition player or a coaching tactic. That player then has to improve or every single week, they will be a liability and find themselves out of the lineup.

That type of scrutiny doesn’t happen in Super League. A player has a bad game against quality opposition, he backs up with five games against terrible opposition, looks like a world beater because of it, and hey, he doesn’t have to improve his game!

We Can’t Compete Because Of Poor Coaching: Right
I think if you took the best English coach today and took him back in time to the old NSWRL club competition in the mid 1970’s, he’d still find his tactics and abilities were out dated.

English coaches are generations behind their Australian counterparts. I don’t think they have the first club of what is required from a modern day Rugby League coach, simply because they got taught to coach by a generation of English coaches who also didn’t know what it took during their time!

When you look at what Michael Maguire did at Wigan in one off season, the way he completely turned the club around, it shows the gulf in coaching ability between what we have in the NRL and what there is over in England. Keep in mind, Maguire was only an Assistant Coach at the Melbourne Storm!

The worst part of the coaching vacuum in England is, the RFL insist that the English test coach is and Englishman based in England. They don’t want the best coach! They are selecting a coach on nationality and convenience. Its just disgraceful.

I’m sure all English Rugby League fans would agree with me when I say, they would be happy to win ANYTHING under a Chinese coach that lived on Mars if he was the best man for the job!

We Can’t Compete Because We Need Two Referee’s In Super League: Wrong
The NRL went to two referee’s for a reason. The game was so fast and tactics were so good that it was just took much to expect one on field official to police so many areas of the game.

While I do think its great to be able to have more referee’s in England gaining Super League experience through a two referee system, I don’t think it is the reason England lose games at test level.

At the end of the day, test matches are controlled by one referee and that is now something English players get more exposure to than their Australian and New Zealand counterparts do. Its the same for both teams. It’s not an excuse.

We Can’t Compete Because The Rugby Football League Is Rubbish: Right
You have to realize that the RFL is bailing water on a sinking ship at the moment.

The RFL is having to deal with clubs, at every level, that are over spending to the point where they are going belly up. Others are having issues with unpaid taxes, and on top of all this, the RFL is running on a fairly tight budget, trying to expand the game to increase revenues, and yet at the same time not spend the game into oblivion.

I personally believe that the philosophy at the RFL is to work hard on the financial side of the game, and hope the on field action sorts itself out. I can understand why they do this with the problems they are having to deal with to be honest.

The problem with this philosophy is that England can’t rely on its clubs to push the game forward. That push needs to come from higher up. The English game needs someone to drive it forward because the natural mechanisms in place in the NRL are not there in Super League.

I think what the RFL need to do is go to wait for Australia to get its new Independent Commission set up, which will run all levels of the game in Australia, including the NRL. They need to go to this new governing body and ask for support.

Not financial support. The RFL need ask for technical support, they need help up-skilling coaches, they need advice and guidance on salary cap rules and regulations, they need advice on the set up of lower grade competitions, they need to ask for a referee exchange system and they need to try and get as much cross pollination with the NRL as possible.

We Can’t Compete Because We Are Just Not Good Enough: Right
I hate it because its so simplistic and a bit defeatist, however in general terms, its right.

There is not one area of the game in which England can say they are at the same level as Australia or New Zealand. Not one!

Every level of every area of the English game is sub par. Coaching, training, skills, fitness, desire, drive…..everything is below standard.

The only way things will turn around is if there is a game wide focus in England to lift standards, and that goes from junior levels, through to senior levels. It has to involve clubs, coaches, administrators, players and even fans.

It has to be a national focus to improve the standards of Rugby League in England.

Outside of that happening will just result in the English game slowly dying as we have watched happened over the last 30+ years.

Liked it? Take a second to support League Freak on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Leave a Reply