Exiles could come to rescue but Ashes still the priority for England’s John Bateman

NRL-BASED England duo John Bateman and Josh Hodgson say plenty in Australia remain hopeful the Ashes will go ahead – but if it does not they would both welcome the return of the Exiles.

Fingers crossed: John Bateman, celebrating with Chris Hill England's victory over New Zealand in 2018, wants the Ashes to be played.
Fingers crossed: John Bateman, celebrating with Chris Hill England's victory over New Zealand in 2018, wants the Ashes to be played.

Before the coronavirus hit, the Canberra Raiders pair had been looking forward to the prospect of facing the touring Kangaroos in a three-Test home series at the end of this year.

However, with both domestic competitions halted due to the pandemic, the world champions’ visit is in jeopardy.

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The NRL is due to resume on May 28 but the season has been extended by three weeks with the Grand Final now being played on October 25 – just six days before Australia are due to face Shaun Wane’s England in the opening Test at Bolton.

Matters are further complicated as the three-game State of Origin series is now expected to be moved to after the Grand Final.

Speaking from his home in Canberra, second-row Bateman told The Yorkshire Post: “The Australians here are still staying they’re pretty keen to get it (Ashes) on at the end of the year.

“We had a meeting with Shaun Wane the other day, with all the English lads based over here, and he was saying they are still pretty keen to see it go ahead.

“I don’t care who we play when it comes down to it as long as we’re playing. If Australia come over to us and we can get a game, then great.

“But I’ve seen talk about the Exiles. If the lads over there are willing to play a game for us, then that would be fantastic.

“We need to get in as a team, get together and obviously with a new coach and people knowing each other, that’s what we need – to get a game.

“We’ve got a big year next year with the World Cup and playing it in England, too. The best preparation possible is to play and get together as a squad.”

The Exiles was a representative team of overseas players playing in Super League who took on England in a concept that started in 2011 but, unfortunately, only lasted three years.

Brothers in arms: Josh Hodgson is Bateman's club and international team-mate.

Legendary Australia hooker Danny Buderus, who played for Leeds Rhinos at the time, and fellow Kangaroos Craig Fitzgibbon and Mark O’Meley, who featured with Hull FC, were in the inaugural Exiles side that defeated England at Headingley.

However, the quality of overseas talent in 2020 is also high with stars such as Sonny Bill Williams, Konrad Hurrell and Dave Fifita now plying their trade in Super League.

Moreover, this term, Catalans Dragons have James Maloney, who played half-back in two Origin games for New South Wales last year, while Huddersfield Giants recruited Bateman and Hodgson’s Canberra team-mate Aidan Sezer fresh from appearing at scrum-half in the 2019 NRL Grand Final.

Bradfordian Bateman, who played in England’s 2017 World Cup final loss against Australia, added: “There are quite a few decent players over in Super League from Australia and New Zealand.

“Obviously, you’d have to get them to put their hands up but Fifita at Wakefield said he’d be willing to do that and I’m sure there’d be others, too.

“It’d be a great experience for them and a real test for us as well so I’d be open to it.”

Former Hull KR hooker Hodgson added: “It’d be an interesting concept.

“I really liked the Exiles idea when they did it a few years ago.

“I know they packed it in but I thought as an England team they always got a lot out of it.

“I was never part of it but it always looked beneficial as there’s normally some real quality Australians in Super League as they don’t pick them here for whatever reason. That does give us a few options – but I am really optimistic about the Ashes and I think the Australians would still be just as keen as we are to get it going.”

Having missed out on facing Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos in that World Cup final three years ago due to suffering a knee injury in the semi, Hodgson is certainly desperate to take them on again.

On the chances of that happening, the Canberra co-captain, who represented Great Britain on tour last autumn, said: “It will massively depend on how bad England (with Covid-19) is and their restrictions when it gets to the back end of the year.

“But over here, I believe Mal Meninga and the Australia team will be really keen to get it going.

“They have an Ashes planned the year before the (2021) World Cup and a few players just building combinations with each other after a fair few retirements these last couple of years.

“I’m really hopeful for the Ashes but as a country we just want to play, whether that’s Australia or anybody else, that’s what we want.”

The Yorkshireman, 30, was on that Zoom chat with Wane, the former Wigan coach who has taken over from Wayne Bennett in charge of England this year.

“I loved how he spoke and how open he was,” said Hodgson, who, with Bateman, Elliott Whitehead and George Williams, is one of four England players at Canberra, with another Raider – uncapped former Wigan prop Ryan Sutton – also on Wane’s list of ‘prospective Ashes candidates.’

“I’d obviously already heard good things about him from John (Bateman), Ryan and George as well from their Wigan days so I knew half of what to expect.

“He seems a really good fella and I’m looking forward to what’s hopefully to come.”

After this pandemic, so is everyone else, whomever the national side do finally face.

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