“Their fitness levels are superb, and ok we get the odd Australian who gets caught being drunk, that happens in all sorts of sports, but I would say that 99 per cent of Australians who want to play that game of rugby league look after their bodies – they are not out on the town till two o’clock or three o’clock in the morning,” he said.
But Cunningham has hit back, according to the St Helens Star, and believes the gap is not down to a drinking culture.
“What disappoints me is some of the rubbish spouted by people on Sky, which is the front line for people watching the sport and for potential sponsors,” he said.
“If people looked at the difference it is funding and the pool of players you have got.
“Players go where the money is, you have seen where it is in rugby union.
“I am not trying to feel sorry for ourselves, just explaining the reason why as a country they are moving away from us.
“If you look here were not getting the same calibre of Australians – no Jamie Lyons and Matt Gidleys – because the cap has gone up in the NRL and those players command a lot more money.
“It is quite hard and then you have got people talking garbage basically saying that the difference between the competitions is that our players are staying in nightclubs till 2 and 3am.
“That sort of thing may have happened in the past but you can’t do that nowadays
“It is insulting for everyone involved in the sport. We have worked so hard to get where we are and an off the cuff comment like that blew me out of the water.
“I feel for the players, for what they do and how they prepare, the coaches and everyone in the RFL, the chairmen who are putting in money and doing the right things. Then you get someone making a comment like that.”
Hull FC skipper Gareth Ellis also rebuked Stephenson for his comments, tweeting: “@SkySportsRL please inform Stevo that @hullfcofficial are training today so couldn’t go out on the town last night. #insulting”.