Super League intensity can match game Down Under believes Cross

With the lastest failings of the England team still raw and the inquests ongoing, the new Super League season dawns with many questions unanswered over the strength of the domestic competition.

Why are we so far behind Australia and New Zealand? What has the NRL got that Super League has not?

Is the influx of so many antipodeans counter-productive to the strength of the league?

Do the overseas stars help develop the young English and French players at Castleford and Catalans – or is their very presence having a negative impact on the home-grown talent coming through?

All of these questions will be put to the back of minds by the time the season kicks-off with a bang at the Millennium Stadium in three weeks' time.

The two Hull sides will clash ferociously on Welsh soil while battle commences between the old foes of Leeds and Bradford, fixtures that will offer a stark reminder of how intense club rugby league is in the northern hemisphere.

The scratching of the surface will be left until later in the season when Steve McNamara starts sifting through the pulled muscles and impact injuries from a long, hard season to select a squad capable of matching the international game's dominant duopoly.

Those with doubts over the strength of Super League will be heartened by the words this week of Ben Cross, Leeds Rhinos' 32-year-old winter recruit from Down Under.

His age may place him in the category that doubters will point to as one of the reasons for Engand's poor showing in the recent Four Nations, but his actions will prove otherwise.

Cross has achieved everything there is to accomplish in his home country, and has headed north to match that feat with the Headingley club.

He has also arrived with encouraging words about the strength of the competition he has entered, and the professional environment he is now plying his trade in.

"Everything I've seen so far, mirrors Australia," said the former Canberra Raiders, Melbourne Storm and Newcastle Knights prop forward.

"Bits and pieces are similar to all three clubs I've played for, there are similar things to Newcastle and the Raiders.

"But probably the biggest similarity is with Melbourne Storm with how hard they train, how hard they push each other.

"What I've found so far at Leeds is really close to that intensity.

"There is an unbelievable professionalism at the club, I've been really impressed with that and also the expectations the players place on themselves.

"There's no secret why they've had the success they've had.

"The expectations Gary (Hetherington – chief executive) places on you and the new coach (Brian McDermott), to be professional and to push ourselves is good for the camp.

"You don't really need to be worried about getting a kick up the backside because we all do it to ourselves, which is what you want from a club and shows the attitudes here are sharp."

Cross won the Premiership with Storm in 2007 and was a member of their losing Grand Final team the year before.

He has State of Origin experience and narrowly missed out on representing the Kangaroos in the 2008 World Cup, having been involved in the preliminary 46-man squad.

Although having yet to test himself at Super League level, he is expecting a rough ride in a competition he feels can more than hold its own against its southern hemisphere couterpart.

"After talking to a few guys I'm expecting a pretty strong, physical competition," said Cross.

"And physical rugby is the type of footie I like. Flash and flamboyant I'll leave to the other guys, it's not really my footie – I'm more into barging people out the way.

"But from what I've seen in the past there's some really entertaining footie played in Super League, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the sport."

And for the growth of a team, and the knock-on effect that has on the strength of the league and the international team, Cross believes a range of input from overseas players, home recruits and Academy products can only be good for the sport.

"There's a few guys here at Leeds from Australia, plus the guys from other clubs, all of whom bring a little bit extra into the camp," said the native of New South Wales.

"Throw in the likes of Rob Burrow and Jamie Jones-Buchanen, who have come up through the juniors and are Leeds through and through, and you have so much to take in. You need to learn off those two in particular, adapt to their ways, so it's really good."

Cross arrives in Yorkshire having spent the last three years with Newcastle Knights. He had offers in the past to join Super League but the lure of ambitious Leeds was too much to resist.

"It wasn't really that big a decision, it was something we always wanted to do," he said. "From very early on in my career when I started achieving goals in Australia, doing well over here was something I wanted to do.

"Playing state of origin and winning a Premiership, I had ticked most of the boxes. I now want to test myself over here.

"Eventually I was fortunate enough to come to a successful club with big ambitions.

"A couple of opportunities had come up before in Super League but my wife was pregnant with our second child and we wanted to see out my contract at Newcastle.

"Plus the timing wasn't right at that stage, whereas now it is, and things have really fallen into place.

"All the guys have been great, when they start taking the mick out of you from day one you know you've been taken in.

"The guys are pretty disappointed how it turned out last season, so that will be a driving force to succeed this year which can only be good for newcomers like myself."