HAVING represented England and Great Britain, I know what it feels like to play for my country – and crucially how important international rugby league is for the sport’s future.
That’s why it is pleasing to hear progress was made last week on talks about the England v New Zealand game in Denver in June actually going ahead.
The NRL and its players association had welfare concerns about its players playing in the US.
Thankfully, though, it looks like their worries have been eased. It’s great for the game.
For me, playing either in Denver or wherever, international rugby league is something we need to really push and promote as much as possible.
I’m a massive believer in it and always have but it is an area where we fall behind compared to other sports.
When you look at football and, closer to home, rugby union and how strong they are in terms of the international game it’s obvious we need to strengthen. That’s especially true with union, seeing how strong their international game makes them as a whole.
The NRL may have had some legitimate concerns when it comes to Denver but historically it has never been particularly supportive of international rugby league.
I know that. I played in Australia for four years and saw how they got caught up in their own NRL bubble. The game is so big over there – RL is the number one sport – and the NRL so powerful that they can’t see anything else.
Let’s not forget, in a geographical sense, Australia itself is quite a long way from anywhere else as well. I think that makes them quite introverted anyway.
For me, playing either in Denver or wherever, international rugby league is something we need to really push and promote as much as possible. I’m a massive believer in it.Gareth Ellis
But it’s because rugby league is so big that I feel they are actually duty-bound to push international rugby league as well.
You see other sports branching out to promote games elsewhere and the NRL should be at the forefront of doing that.
Clearly, there is scope to really advance things in North America.
With the emergence of Toronto Wolfpack and talk of other North American cities, such as New York, getting involved in our competition, it’s an exciting time.
If the promoter [Jason Moore] feels he can sell rugby league in Denver – and he has backed it financially – then everyone should be getting behind him.
Let’s face it, we can’t afford to be too picky. It’s a massive opportunity to promote rugby league over there and put on a real spectacle. That’s what it is – an event.
As a player, I know I’d be looking forward to playing in the US. England really benefited from the experience of playing Samoa in Sydney last May and the more they get together and play together as a team the better.
I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with Wayne Bennett’s England camp during last year’s World Cup.
In all honesty, I was almost jealous seeing the camaraderie and team spirit built up by him and the players there. It was great to see such genuine togetherness.
I can only feel if we’d had that bond when I played for England – and we had some great players – we’d have been more successful than we ever were.
It was really impressive seeing them in camp. I spoke to one of our (Hull FC) players Scott Taylor about it. Now, he didn’t actually play much and I’ve been in camps before where, if players didn’t play, they just wanted to go home. You can understand how they could get fed-up, not playing for weeks; you begin to feel like a professional trainer.
But Tag (Taylor) spoke so highly of the whole set-up and, as someone who didn’t feature much during the World Cup, that speaks volumes about what Wayne Bennett has done.
We were an ankle-tap away from maybe winning the World Cup for the first time since 1972 so it is so encouraging to see the position England is in right now.
We all know we have a fantastic product. I’m being reminded of that now.
That’s because as a player I never had Sky. Already being immersed in the game, I didn’t want to go home and watch more of it, too.
But now I’m retired I can enjoy it again. And I do. I’m watching all the games and looking forward to them.
Those in the sport know how good it is. And I know that anyone watching rugby league for the first time who hasn’t watched it before will enjoy it. The product is that good. It just needs promoting better. Taking this game to Denver will help give the chance for new audiences to enjoy it.
That’s why it is so important it goes ahead on June 23.