Great Britain may have built on what was a successful 2004, having finished atop the group stage and only coming apart in the final. Instead the side seems to have gone backwards in that time. Why? Various suggestions have been made to account for our lack of success.
Problems in team selection have been cited by some, and this is a valid point. Why did it take an injury to Danny McGuire for Leon Pryce to be selected at stand-off? It’s surely no coincidence that Pryce’s half-back combination with Sean Long ended in the Lions’ 23-12 win over Australia.
Why wasn’t a back-up winger brought into the squad so that an injury to Brian Carney – a likelihood it has to be said – would not have to result in Pryce returning to the wing? The makeshift line-up that took to the field against the Kangaroos shows either that the squad selection could have been better or that the game in this country lacks strength in depth.
Many other questions could be asked about the team selection. Questions could be asked of selections such as like Sean O’Loughlin, Keith Senior, Martin Gleeson, Terry Newton, etc; those in the squad who didn’t play like Rob Burrow, Andy Coley and Martin Aspinwall; and those left at home like Paul Cooke, Paul Deacon or Lee Briers, especially given that we went into the final game without a kicker.
All these questions could amount to something, or to nothing. We’ll now never know. The man who may have the answers is Brian Noble – but the biggest question mark that remains is the one that hangs over his future as Great Britain coach.
Brian Noble places the blame for Great Britain’s disappointment squarely at the feet of the fixture planners, both at Red Hall and at the RLIF. Noble feels with some justification that the club season is too long and that the hectic Tri-Nations schedule disadvantages Great Britain.
The solution to this, in my opinion, would be to reduce the length of the engage Super League season by six games, reduce the play-offs to the top four sides and have Super League sides enter the Challenge Cup a round later. This would cut a top player’s season by as many as eight games, and allow room for the Tri-Nations fixtures to be re-balanced.
The clubs will understandably be concerned about the loss of money that such a cull of fixtures would lead to. But they have to see the added benefits of international success – in this country a sport lives and dies by its national side. We have to decide now that we’re going to give Great Britain or England the support they need, or accept our status as a second rate sport with a second rate side.
The year may have ended in disappointment for the Lions, but if you’re a St Helens fan that will take nothing away from your wonderful year. And it would be great to see the Saints’ achievements recognised on a national scale in the annual BBC Sports Awards.
The Sports Awards are an event which rugby league is always guaranteed a mention – albeit for a minute and a half if we’re lucky – but if you think that we deserve more then you can nominate Saints as Team of the Year. The voting takes place of Radio Five Live, or just text Five Live sports on 85058, write to BBC TV Centre, Room 5006, Sports team competition, London W12 7RJ, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to do it before November 27th.
If the Saints are nominated then you can then cast your vote to have them crowned team of the year. I can’t think of another team that deserves this accolade more; nor can I think of a sport that deserves more recognition. We may get nowhere, but it’s certainly worth a try.
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