Exiles test is right for England

As mysteries go, it was hardly one of Midsomer proportions.

Hooded men popped up on the touchline during televised matches, a month-long advertising campaign warned us that ‘they’ were coming before Sean O’Loughlin and Kevin Sinfield calmed fears by assuring us that they were waiting.

The mystery was quickly unravelled but the RFL deserve plenty of credit for their willingness to support the International Origin concept.

The selection process used to decide the Exiles squad has already sparked plenty of debate. 

Allowing the rugby league public to choose 13 members of the final 22-man squad is an exciting initiative. The coaching team of Brian McClennan and Terry Matterson will select the remaining nine players.

Danny Buderus and Thomas Leuluai are certain to feature in that final squad having been named as captain and vice captain.

There is plenty of competition elsewhere in the voting though. However, with a round of Super League fixtures due to take place on the same weekend it appears that lots of fans will be voting tactically.

The sport’s inability to create a dedicated international date in its calendar is frustrating.

If the concept is to be a success it not only needs to serve up an entertaining game but also attract a healthy crowd.

Whether enough supporters can spare the time and money to watch their club’s game as well as an international match in the same weekend remains to be seen.

That said, the International Origin fixture is an exciting idea and I am confident that the game will be competitive.

Pitting England against a team featuring the best overseas talent in Super League is certain to provide Steve McNamara’s side with a much sterner test than a match against France.

Recognising that the mid-season international has been of little benefit to England, the RFL probably had little choice but the strategy is a risky one.

England will have to make do without Gareth Ellis, Sam Burgess and Gareth Widdop after their NRL clubs made it clear they would not be allowed to take part in the game.

While the Exiles team is likely to include the likes of Joel Monaghan, Brett Hodgson and Rangi Chase meaning they could start the match as favourites.

Our international reputation was damaged by a poor showing in last year’s Four Nations. Losing to a side that will be seen as NRL castoffs in Australia is unlikely to help.

However England undoubtedly need a tougher test and the Exiles will provide that.

The RFL have been widely criticised in the past for failing to capture enough headlines but this announcement has been handled in an impressive manner.

Their next challenge is to ensure that the game itself proves as successful.

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