A “South of England” representative side should play a warm up fixture against one of the World Cup 2021 participants in Bristol, says All Golds CEO Joe David.
It will be eight years since Bristol hosted the 2013 World Cup game between USA and Cook Islands at the Memorial Stadium, home of Bristol Rovers FC, and a new Bristol club was recently formed to build on the heritage of the “All Golds”.
The original All Golds tour in 1907-08 gave birth to international rugby league, with the deciding match against the “Northern Union” famously played in the south west of England at Cheltenham Town’s Whaddon Road.
A growing number of Super League players were born in the south, including St Helens prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wigan’s Tony Clubb, Dan Sarginson of Salford and brothers Josh and George Griffin.
The team could also be drawn from the southern based professional clubs, London Broncos, London Skolars and Coventry Bears.
Recent York signing Kieran Dixon has always been highly rated and could be selected, while the likes of Will Sharp, James Woodburn-Hall and Rob Worrincy are all seasoned Championship players.
Warrington have just signed Kent-born prop Rob Butler, to go with another of their former London contingent in Matt Davis, and Lewis Bienek has been given another chance to breakthrough in Super League with Castleford.
Another Londoner, Kai Pearce-Paul, made his first team debut for Wigan back in September against St Helens.
David said: “The opportunity to play representative Rugby League in the UK is restricted at a professional level to World Cups and major tournaments. The chance to represent a region was lost with the demise of the County Championships.
“Given the perception still that Rugby League is a ‘Northern’ game for ‘Northern’ folk. This potential fixture is a chance to exhibit the genuine talent that exists within the game and gives Southern players the chance to showcase their talents.
“It also adds a player progression pathway for young up and coming Southern players to show they can gain Representative honours. The phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ applies to Rugby League players as it does everyone else.
“A South of England Team would give Southern based players and enthusiasts the role and aspirational models we all crave.”
David has suggested that Jamaica, Wales, Cook Islands or New Zealand would be ideal opponents, for different reasons.
Bristol is the only major town or city in the UK where the black African/Caribbean population is larger than those of Asian ethnicity, while its closeness to Wales would present obvious logistical benefits.
Cook Islands played in front of 7,000 fans in Bristol in 2013 and playing the Kiwis would be a nod towards the “All Golds” pioneers from more than a century ago.