State of the Nation: Schedule issues leave McNamara’s team playing catch-up once more

WHEN looking ahead to England’s prospects for 2015 it is all a little vague.

England rugby league head coach Steve McNamara

This is not because Steve McNamara’s side are not talented or without potential. Glimpses of both were plain to see in the recent Four Nations.

It is merely because their fixtures have still yet to be confirmed. Perhaps therein lies the problem for international rugby league; while union can salivate at the prospect of the Six Nations and a home World Cup this year, and the cricket and football calendars are similarly brimming, league has no clearly defined presence so it still struggles to command authority at the highest level.

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It is a crying shame given the calibre of some recent international contests, not least the spellbinding Four Nations final in Wellington between New Zealand and Australia plus 2013’s epic Wembley World Cup semi-final involving the Kiwis and England. Indeed, both tournaments in their entirety – enthralling, fiercely contested – were a credit to the sport.

But we know for certain that England will host the Kiwis for a three Test series in the “autumn” and that, given New Zealand’s recently elevated status following their brilliant Shaun Johnson-inspired Four Nations final win over Australia, is now almost as enticing as a visiting Ashes tour.

England know they should have beaten the Kiwis to reach that final, Gareth Widdop twice hitting a post and Ryan Hall – the Leeds Rhino who shone once more – unusually spilling a gilt-edged chance in a 16-14 defeat.

It was Hall who was wrongly denied a try against Australia, too, in a game England lost 16-12.

That was so frustrating for McNamara’s men but again reminded them that, if they are ever going to win such a tournament, they have to take firmer control to ensure outcomes are not left to such fragile margins.

Sam Burgess’s loss to union is, of course, a hammer blow but there is ample talent with the emergence of Man of Steel Daryl Clark, the young hooker who dazzled for Castleford last term, and exciting Wigan Warriors centre Dan Sarginson easing onto the international stage.

The only problem – as ever – is they must now wait 10 months to get another shot at taking on the very best. Until the international game sorts itself out and provides a fuller itinerary, you have to fear, then, that England will forever be left playing catch-up. In every sense.