Dave Craven on rugby league: Women’s game benefits as we are forced to wait for World Cup

TODAY should have been the day a five-week jamboree of international rugby league got underway on these shores.

Catalans' Sam Tomkins: Injury would have ruled him out of World Cup had it gone ahead. Picture: SWPix.

England versus Samoa in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup at St James’ Park, Newcastle this afternoon and holders Australia against Fiji at Hull’s KCOM Stadium among others.

Ah, it promised so much.

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Of course, though, we all know what happened next: the Kangaroos and New Zealand pulled out of the tournament in July citing fears about Covid.

I am sure I am not alone when saying that decision – which essentially led to the men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions being postponed for 12 months – still irks me. Nevertheless, thankfully, we do still have some international rugby league on the agenda, even if just for a couple of days rather than 61 fixtures over more than a month.

England face France in Perpignan today (2.30pm) with England’s women’s side also doing likewise in the first part of a double-header at Stade Gilbert Brutus in Perpignan (noon). Showcased on BBC2, it will be the first women’s rugby league international to be shown live on terrestrial television.

It is a significant breakthrough for the growing sport but also a timely one given the RFU’s announcement they are bidding to host the 2025 Women’s Rugby Union World Cup.

A chance to reach the eyes of potentially millions of new viewers is one the RFL will be hoping can do wonders for the 13-player women’s code.

It goes without saying, the men’s sport always needs to strengthen its profile, too, and it is pleasing to see their game being shown live on BBC1.

It has been a strange time for all involved in the international game – this is only England head coach Shaun Wane’s second match in charge despite taking over 21 months ago – but is a chance to sign off the year with a flourish.

For those who are getting an opportunity it is a rare chance to shine and put a big step forward for their hopes in 2022.

Similarly, Jamaica – who make their World Cup debut next year – and Scotland will gain valuable experience when they meet at Post Office Road in the weekend’s other international game.

That said, it is hard not to wonder what the atmosphere would be like today if the World Cup was starting as expected.

Preparations from tournament organisers had been so thorough you sensed it truly could be the best one yet. Plans are firmly in place to ensure the tournament does sparkle regardless in 2022 and England captain Sam Tomkins, for one, may now be glad it was postponed as he is currently sidelined by a knee injury.

Daryl Clark, George Williams and Gareth Widdop are also unavailable while Hull FC’s Josh Griffin – tipped to make his Test breakthrough – is recovering from a ruptured Achilles.

There are myriad players who will not feature next year because their careers will have drawn to a close. England hooker James Roby, for instance, recently announced his international retirement. But, in contrast, plenty more, like Leeds Rhinos’ young centre Harry Newman, will get a chance to advance their cases.

The World Cup is not the only event to fall by the wayside due to Covid. I was supposed to take the missus to see indie folk band Bon Iver in Leeds tomorrow but that has been postponed until October 19, 2022. Here’s hoping it does not clash with any of those World Cup fixtures or I may end up in trouble yet...