As brilliant as it was to see Great Britain back in action at the weekend, it highlights just how much the game has lost in their absence.
The focus on creating more nations for the benefit of the World Cup has diluted the top level of the international game to the extent that it didn’t even warrant Press Association to send a photographer or a reporter, while only one national newspaper reporter is Down Under, something that would have been unthinkable 12 years ago.
Brian Noble’s continuous referencing of England on the BBC coverage fits in with the overall attitude towards Great Britain from players and coaches alike – Wayne Bennett’s priority is developing his England side towards winning the 2021 World Cup, though Saturday’s performance suggests he has plenty of work to do.
Even the players are referencing mid-season internationals, and generally the whole GB/England line has been blurred significantly, the presence of the same coaching team not helping with that either.
It was interesting to read criticisms from Ireland international Tyrone McCarthy of how their World Cup qualifier in Spain was handled. This just highlights a problem of manufactured international games – how Spain can be expected to have a professional set-up when they have barely a handful of amateur players and clubs, and presumably very little funding and sponsorship is crazy. To their credit, at least Spain fielded genuine Spanish players and played in Spain, unlike an increasing number of international sides.
There just doesn’t seem to be any value in playing faux international games between Italy and Philippines in Australia. Play them as exhibition games sure, but it paints a false picture of the game and takes away from any genuine efforts to grow the game in those respective countries.
But there are some really encouraging signs of growing the game in the north east of England.
Off the back of the Magic Weekend building a presence at St James’ Park, a number of community clubs have flourished in the Newcastle region, and we receive regular, positive updates from the likes of Cramlington Rockets.
An event was held at the Newcastle Eagles Community Arena on Friday to outline plans for the development of the game in the area around the 2021 World Cup, where they will host several games across all three tournaments.
That includes the establishment of new teams, the first community club to carry the name Newcastle for the first time in nearly 30 years.
In the era of meaningless monikers, the Newcastle Magpies brand has a genuine connection to the city and an attraction to football fans perhaps growing disillusioned with their sport or indeed their club’s controversial owner.
It’s unfortunate that Newcastle Thunder failed to gain promotion to the Championship this year, though always useful when the reality of sport bites – what happens on the pitch is most important after all.
Despite that, Thunder have outlined ambitious plans to win Super League by 2030.
Whether they achieve that goal remains to be seen – but what is for sure, the work they’re doing on and off the field leaves a genuine, lasting legacy from hosting not only World Cup games, but the Magic Weekend too.