Rugby League Expert & Columnist @RLBarrieMc10
Barrie McDermott wants War of the Roses or England vs Celtic Nations mid-season clashes
Last Updated: 17/12/19 6:26am
Barrie McDermott believes an inter-county Origin series or England against a combined Celtic Nations team is the way forward when it comes to mid-season representative games.
England are set to play a mid-year Test match in 2020, with Samoa the likely opponents, while there has been talk of resurrecting the Exiles team - made up of Super League's top overseas players - which featured in a short-lived annual series between 2011 and 2013.
There is a desire to give players more meaningful preparation for the rigours of international rugby league too following Great Britain's disappointing winter tour, where they were defeated in all four matches against Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
But rather than bringing back the International Origin games, former Lions international McDermott wants to see genuine competitive matches for players from all four Home Nations and would remove the six loop fixtures from the Super League calendar to make space for them.
"I think the key to us moving forward at international level is really having a think about the games the players are exposed to," McDermott told Sky Sports.
"We have a wonderful product at domestic level, but do we water it down and dilute it? In my opinion we do and I've never been a fan of the loop fixtures, but we've got to work enough fixtures into the calendar to give everybody what they want.
"I think a very good answer for that would be to put some meaningful representative games in.
No! Bring back the War of the Roses Lancs v Yorks all levels we can see the Probables & the Possibles compete plus it’s worth considering a merged @WalesRugbyL @Irelandrl @scotlandrl to make a Celtic team v @England_RL the Exiles doesn’t develop enough of our own for @GB_Lions https://t.co/KAMPaqqt7D— Barrie McDermott 🏉 (@RLBarrieMc10) December 8, 2019
"I think we're selling ourselves short if we do an Exiles-versus-England game because although it would be great for novelty value and an exhibition of rugby league, that's what it would end up being. It's not a genuine tool to develop our top 30/35 players for international level."
A ready-made rivalry
One often-suggested idea is a return to the 'War of the Roses' clashes between Lancashire and Yorkshire along the lines of Australia's annual State of Origin series.
The cross-Pennine clash was revived in 2001 after a 10-year absence and expanded to a two-game series the following year, only to be shelved after the 2003 edition.
McDermott, who captained Lancashire to glory in 2002, is eager to see the Yorkshire-Lancashire rivalry resume, with a Cumbria team added into the mix as well to create a tri-series similar to the annual tournament between the best amateur players from the three counties.
"If you look back at the games in the early 2000s, the rivalry is there anyway - and I'd include Cumbria in that," McDermott said.
"The War of the Roses is the one we look at and, being a proud Lancastrian who made my name in Yorkshire, the rivalry was always there for me and it is there throughout the game.
"If you put Cumbria into the equation, you've got three counties and could have a meaningful, next-level series.
"It's all about getting the players used to playing at a high intensity and a required standard of performance that is more than a normal club match, and the more exposure players get to that, the better."
If the desire is not there for an inter-county format, McDermott would instead like to see the England team playing a Celtic Nations side representing Scotland, Wales and Ireland to help develop players across all of the Home Nations, which would then feed into the Great Britain team.
"I always go back to the Probables vs Possibles format: Who's already in there, do they deserve to keep their spot, who's knocking on the door and how do we put together a game which tests one against the other to see who get the job of representing us at international level?" McDermott said.
"How we get people to buy into that and watch it, ultimately we've got to put it on in the right venues, see what does and doesn't work, improve it each year and give it time to grow.
"Don't just do it for one or two years, give it 10 or 15 years so the kids who are the next generation aspire to play in a Lancashire-Yorkshire-Cumbria game at the top level or want to play for England against the Celtic Nations."
Why Super League must buy into it
Although RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer has ruled out a return for the Exiles matches, the idea has received backing from Wigan Warriors chairman Ian Lenagan and Catalans Dragons head coach Steve McNamara.
McDermott understands there may be reticence from Super League's clubs to cutting the number of fixtures in the regular season if it meant suffering a drop in revenue, as well as the need to satisfy the terms of the current broadcast deal.
But the former Leeds Rhinos forward is in no doubt the competition would benefit from a stronger international game, particularly with the 2021 Rugby League World Cup being held in this country offering a chance to raise the profile of the sport.
"Jon Dutton and his team are doing a tremendous job of promoting the World Cup, so anything we can do to help has to be discussed," McDermott said. "We've seen this year how success helps grow a sport after watching the England cricket and rugby union teams pierce the nation's sporting consciousness.
"It needs the clubs to buy into it. Would they be Super League county teams or RLF county teams, because England and Great Britain are under the banner of the RFL? Short-term, if we put a county Origin Series or England versus the Celtic Nations in the diary it would give the players who are likely to play in the 2021 World Cup an advantage.
"It's got to be the chief executives, chairman and owners of clubs sitting down and thinking about what's important and what will help them sell their games.
"As a domestic competition, Super League will benefit from a stronger presence at international level. These things are different and it gives the fans something to grab onto."
Getting the right balance
One of the biggest criticisms levelled at the reintroduction of the Great Britain team was that it was treated as little more than the England team under a different name, with scant regard paid to the other Home Nations.
McDermott, who represented Ireland at the 2000 World Cup, wants to see players encouraged to pull on Scottish, Welsh and Irish jerseys rather than all eligible players being pushed to towards the England team.
That would allow those teams to grow in strength, particularly if those players are coming through after being exposed to representative rugby at inter-county level or in an England-versus-Celtic Nations format.
"England shouldn't be the only team for player of a certain standard," McDermott said. "There's nothing wrong with spreading that talent pool around, and players playing in the Ireland, Wales or Scotland teams and making them as strong as possible will in turn mean Great Britain has four strong sets of players to choose from
"The fans always want the best team to be England, which is understandable because that's where Super League has it's strongest presence and where the game is entrenched, but we've probably got to rethink how we do that and selling games.
"We talk about big events like Magic Weekend, but it should be our ambition to push the Home Nations as an event. Imagine an England against Ireland international in Dublin or Wales against Scotland in Wales, which we could promote, sell and really give a big push"