Five things to look forward to: RL in America, England debutants, new look New Zealand

There is so much to look forward to regarding the international break.

England debutants in action

Wayne Bennett will hand England debuts to Jake Connor and Tommy Makinson when England face New Zealand in a mid-season Test in Denver on Saturday. Luke Thompson also travelled to the United States with the England squad, but he will have to wait a little longer to make his debut after missing out on selection.

Connor has been Hull FC’s standout player this season and the fact that he is so versatile is a big positive. He can play at half-back, centre, wing or even hooker. Meanwhile, Makinson has been sensational for St Helens this year. It will be interesting to see how they get on.

How RL is perceived by American fans

The whole reason behind taking the Test match to Denver in the first place was to attract a new audience in American sports fans.

The promoters and organisers of the event are hoping for an attendance of between 30,000 to 40,000 at Mile High Stadium. If they manage to pull in a crowd of at least 30,000 then it should be classed as a success. There have been some great marketing ploys too, so check them out on social media if you haven’t seen them already.

International Test in America

How good is it that an international rugby league fixture as big as England v New Zealand will be played in the United States?!

Whether you like it or not, rugby league is expanding. When Super League first started in 1996, imagine if someone told you that Toronto would have a professional team as well as the Denver Test taking place in 2018? You would have thought they were bonkers!

With the Rugby League World Cup being held in the United States and Canada in 2025, it is good that England are playing New Zealand this year and there should be a couple of more fixtures held there before the tournament so American sports fans can really get into the sport.

National TV coverage

The England v New Zealand clash in Denver is being shown live on BBC Two from 9pm on Saturday night.

Tanya Arnold will present the show, while Brian Noble, Justin Holbrook and Jon Wilkin will be guests in the studio. Dave Woods will be on commentary, with John Kear as co-commentator.

It is brilliant to see rugby league gaining national television coverage. The World Cup final last year averaged 1.5million viewers on BBC 1, so wouldn’t it be great if Saturday’s game reached 1million hits? It will certainly get England Rugby League out there to a wide audience.

New look Kiwis

A lot of this feature piece has been all about England so far, but let’s take a look at New Zealand, who are starting an exciting new chapter.

Former Wigan Warriors and South Sydney Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire will take charge of his first game as New Zealand boss on Saturday. Maguire was very successful while with Wigan, but can he take the Kiwis to be ranked the number one side in the world again? It’s a tough ask, but stranger things have happened.

Ken Maumalo, Jamayne Isaako, Esan Marsters, Leeson Ah Mau, Herman Ese’ese, Slade Griffin and Raymond Faitala-Mariner could all make their debuts for New Zealand. It is going to be good to see how the younger players get on in the Kiwis outfit.

England’s forward pack will certainly be tested. Powerhouses Marty Taupau, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Nelson Asofa-Solomona have been named in the squad.

BBC Two at 9pm on Saturday, don’t miss it.

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