A SECOND Consecutive World Club Series whitewash gives powers that be in English game plenty to ponder. National Rugby League (NRL) teams are so far ahead that the 3-0 sweep (114-28 on aggregate – but who’s counting?) has permutations far beyond the struggle for supremacy on both sides of the planet. It affects coaching, England’s World Cup prospects for next autumn as well as the possibility that the World Club Series may never be held again. Nevertheless, it is not all negative for the Super League hierarchy and positives can be garnered from the Australian exhibition. It leaves us with the big question: what did the Rugby League fraternity really learn from the 2016 World Club Series?
THE RFL WERE RIGHT TO EMPLOY WAYNE BENNETT – UNDER HIS TUTELAGE ENGLAND CAN RULE THE WORLD
Wayne Bennett has coached Australia and has won no less than 7 NRL premierships in his time as a coach. Under his expert guidance the Brisbane Broncos were perfect in their 42-12 defeat of Wigan Warriors at the DW Stadium this past Saturday. Every aspect of the game both with and without the ball was put into practice in the walkover win. If England play anything like Brisbane, they will go some way to winning the World Cup next year. By then the vast majority of England players will be plying their trade down under. Widdop, Graham, Eden, three quarters of the Burgess brothers, Whitehead and Hodgkinson are all in the NRL. Of those Widdop and the Burgess’es have winners’ medals. There is no reason why this golden generation cannot push the Tasmanian pairing of New Zealand and Australia close with such experience in their ranks.
COACHING IS THE BEST WAY TO BRIDGE THE GAP
When an NRL outfit come out to warm-up, the first thing that strikes you is their size. Brisbane Broncos’ Josh McGuire is as wide as he is tall (any attempts to check this will result in you being snapped like a twiglet). Aidan Guerra of the Sydney Roosters is both quick and powerful without his extra muscle slowing him down. Jake Granville in partnership with Johnathan Thurston at the back of the ruck for the newly-crowned World Club Champions, the North Queensland Cowboys, can dictate games without being the biggest, fastest or strongest. The difference lies in the implementation of attacking and defensive systems which are easy for players to understand and simple to put into practice in game situations. All three of the Super League sides fell afoul of a flat ball to the first man rather than a ranging ball out the back of a ruck.
St Helens, Leeds and Wigan could not cope with the defensive discipline and superior tackling technique of the NRL sides. In the NRL they defend differently. When the attacking side are coming out from their own end of the field, they sprint to get up in defence, but as the attacking side get closer to the try line, they do not engage, simply reacting to the attacking shifts right or left and trusting teammates on the inside and outside to fulfill their defensive duties. With the ball, once the structure disappeared momentarily from all three matches over the weekend, the Super League teams were headless in attack whilst their NRL counterparts kept their craniums in the deep freeze to build something from the last play of six. This was exemplified best by Justin O’Neill’s second try of the night on Sunday, which came from a kick off the outside of his right boot from the superb Granville, which was gathered by Michael Morgan before a sweeping pass saw O’Neill score on the right. Weights are the same the world over, but systems, being savvy and staying calm in the pressure cooker can be coached. Make the game simple. Super League coaches should not be stubborn and learn from the NRL masterclass.
THE PROBLEM IS DEEPER THAN RAISING THE SUPER LEAGUE SALARY CAP
The NRL salary cap is $10 million, Australian. Every game is broadcast live on TV and the game is the national pastime on the East coast. Sourced directly from the First Utility Super League website:
“All teams in Super League will operate under a ‘real time’ salary cap system that calculates a club’s salary cap position at the start of and throughout the season. The combined earnings of the Top 25 players must not exceed £1.825 million.”
Doing the calculations, it is not easy to see the financial superiority of the NRL. However, Rugby League in Australia does not have to compete with other sports for sponsorship, even replays are sponsored by Harvey Norman and the Isuzu D-Max SUV. The smaller clubs in Super League would revolt against a raising of the salary cap because it would leave them far behind. Coaching, and not money, is the most important way to improve English Rugby League. Coaches and players are very good on this side of the globe, just not excellent or as close to NRL franchises as they may have thought.
SKY SPORTS MAY LOSE SUBSCRIBERS
With Sky Sports feeling the pinch in the broadcasting world having lost Football and Rugby Union rights to BT Sport, Rugby League’s TV deal was also affected. Now, highlights packages are only 15 minutes long if you do not catch the action live. With the alternative being a superior NRL product on Premier Sports broadcast eight times a weekend with a catch-up service also, expect to see less Sky satellite dishes in Wigan and Warrington in the near future.
WORLD CLUB SERIES IS NOW THREE GLORIFIED FRIENDLIES-BRING BACK THE ASHES
Corey Oates, The Nikorima Brothers and Michael Morgan are amongst the best in the world, but it is hard to sell them the idea of coming to England for a trial game against the best clubs in the Super League. They are rightfully the best and from their perspective The Dacia World Club Series is a waste of time. Rather than revive the concept for next February, bring back The Ashes. Australia Vs England (with all of our NRL exports) in a three-test series at the end of the season. Every game would be a sell-out, you could stage the games at the biggest stadia both here and in Australasia, and administrators could alternate between Australia and New Zealand on an annual basis.