Dave Craven: Vibrant concept of Exiles match should be built to last

This column has often been a launch pad for criticism of the Rugby Football League, not only in my current tenure but also during the reign of my predecessor.

However, as much as we sometimes may prefer to be vitriolic, crabby and withering, we would both be the first to agree credit needs to be given where it is due – more so especially by John Ledger as he is now media manager at the governing body.

So, here goes .... well done to the RFL for making the Origin International Match happen.

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Not only doing that but doing it with real panache, thoughtfulness and their customary innovation.

England head coach Steve McNamara has always seen a fixture against the cream of Super League’s overseas talent as the ideal way to prepare the international squad and, indeed, his own predecessor Tony Smith suggested such a move nearly two years ago after another unproductive and familiar mid-season rout of France.

McNamara has been the driving force behind the concept but he has needed his employers – and all the Super League clubs – to back him. They have done so to the hilt, the product all of which left me feeling genuinely excited about the prospect that lies in wait on Friday, June 10.

So many times rugby league can feel too gimmicky, trying too hard to be different and often just leaving itself open to mockery and ridicule.

But the Exiles is a vibrant concept which can work and, hopefully, will be given time to mature into a heavyweight mainstay of the sporting calendar in years to come.

Speaking to players from both sides at Wednesday’s launch, they are equally responsive.

The pride with which the gregarious Danny Buderus spoke about his role as the first-ever captain of this Exiles side was cascading and likewise his ex-Australian pal Luke O’Donnell – a menacing presence and comparatively a man of few words – was almost effusive.

They have experienced State of Origin and the chance to savour aspects of that – the Exiles will set up camp for five days preparation not simply roll up Barbarians style – while gaining an opportunity they thought lost to have another pop at the Poms is greatly relished.

The prospect of club colleagues ditching their team allegiance to bash each other for 80 minutes is enticing for players and fans alike while the England squad know whichever combination of players from the 34-man squad is put in front of them they will definitely encounter the sort of highly physical and mental examination they will face in the Four Nations this autumn.

For those supporters, the chance to play their own role in the affair by helping choose the team is a radical but brilliant idea.

More than 5,000 had already voted for their Exiles team online yesterday, just 24 hours after the fixture had been confirmed.

They all now receive a ticket discount and so the hope is they each actually attend to see the game unfold under the Headingley Carnegie floodlights.

The famous Leeds stadium was the venue for the last fixture of similar proportions, the 1988 Great Britain v Rest of the World clash tie as part of the celebrations for the unveiling of the RFL’s Hall of Fame.

That consisted of revered Australians such as Hull KR’s Gavin Miller, St Helens’s Michael O’Connor and Hull FC’s Noel Cleal alongside notable Kiwis like Wakefield’s Mark Graham and the fearsome Kurt Sorensen.

That was a one-off but this must not be. Given chance, it will flourish while achieving the main aim of enhancing England’s international hopes.

However, first I’m playing Exiles coach with Trinity’s Glenn Morrison first down as reward for his sterling Super League service after he was somehow ignored for Origin and Test football before heading to England. Travesty.

Exiles: Hodgson; J Monaghan, King, Menzies, Richards; Chase, T Leuluai; Lima, Buderus, Mason, Newton, Morrison, Fitzgibbon. Substitutes: Webb, Faiumu, Puletua, O’Meley.