England rugby director Kevin Sinfield says the high-quality series against New Zealand has proved international rugby league’s importance – but Australia must now “come to the party” to maximise the sport’s growth.
Confident England are on a high as they bid to complete a 3-0 whitewash of the Kiwis in Sunday’s third and final Test at Elland Road, Leeds.
Wayne Bennett’s side has impressively built on last year’s World Cup when they reached the final against Australia and winger Tommy Makinson, who scored a hat-trick in Sunday’s second Test win, was last night awarded the Golden Boot as the best international player of 2018.
Furthermore, at its peak viewing, 1.7m people watched last weekend’s game on BBC2 and the governing body hopes to see Elland Road close to a sell-out.
Understandably, then, England – or a revived Great Britain – would love to face world champions Australia in a series next year for the first time since 2003.
However, with the 2019 itinerary still up in the air and a seeming lack of willingness from the Kangaroos, it seems unlikely that will actually materialise.
Building towards the home 2021 World Cup, it could be a major opportunity missed to not only see England test themselves further but bring about a series that would command so much interest in both hemispheres.
Sinfield, who was England captain at the 2013 World Cup, told The Yorkshire Post: “I’d absolutely love to see it happen.
“The more opportunities we can find to create meaningful fixtures for this England side is really, really important and has huge value. When you look at the viewing figures from the BBC and the way the players want to wear that shirt, it is really important for the sport. Whether it’s a GB against Australia series or England v Australia, I don’t think it matters; it’s really important for our sport we get these back on the map.
“There’s a real appetite from the RFL and from England to fix this up. Sadly, we need other people to come to the party. England v Australia, Great Britain v Australia is a definite ‘yes’ for me but we need everyone to play ball.”
It has huge value as we’ve seen these last couple of weeks; a club side can’t touch the country like an international team – a successful one – can and we’ve certainly got that at the minute.Kevin Sinfield
Sinfield, the 2014 Golden Boot winner, hopes Australia will change their stance and an agreement can be made during the ongoing Rugby League International Federation meetings this week.
“It would be really good for the sport across the globe if we put the international game where it needs to be,” continued the Leeds Rhinos director of rugby.
“It has huge value as we’ve seen these last couple of weeks; a club side can’t touch the country like an international team – a successful one – can and we’ve certainly got that at the minute.
“I hope we do the job on Sunday again but I think we have something to be really proud of.
“When you look at other Tier One nations – Tonga are pretty close and may get pulled in as a Tier One nation - we need to find ways of getting the big clashes and the big teams of playing against each other alongside Tier Two and helping develop those nations as well.”
After the political infighting seen in the domestic game this year, he wants to see England finish off in style on Sunday.
“It would be a huge statement if we did,” continued Sinfield.
“Hopefully, we send a real message out – not to the world but to everyone here in the UK. We can show them that we have a great sport and an English national team we can be truly proud of.
“Given where our sport has been for the last six to nine months, to finish 2018 off with a real bang and an appetite for international RL and an appetite from our players, coach and staff that England is important to our sport, would be great.
“We just need to remember that. What we won’t realise is the amount of kids at home who have been inspired by these last couple of weeks or last year’s World Cup and may pick up a rugby ball on the back of this. And that’s what it’s about: getting more playing.”
Meanwhile, Leeds scrum-half Richie Myler is called up for the first time this series to replace Sam Tomkins, who suffered a broken hand at Anfield.
With George Burgess banned, Wigan Warriors’ Joe Greenwood debuts and Stefan Ratchford replaces the injured Daryl Clark.