Five things we learned: England’s bright future, America likes RL, Pacific islands rise

Drew Darbyshire

There are a lot of talking points from an outstanding weekend of representative action.

America is interested in rugby league

The big question prior to the Denver Test was whether or not the United States would take to the sport of rugby league.

There is a decent domestic game in the States but the professional game needs to grow now. There was a crowd of 19,320 at the Mile High Stadium to watch the Test between England and New Zealand on Saturday. To put that in context, there was 17,802 in attendance for the Pacific island double header at Campbelltown Sports Ground for the Fiji v Papua New Guinea and Samoa v Tonga clashes.

It is still early days for rugby league in America so it is important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves just yet, but nobody can take anything away from the fact that there is an appetite for rugby league in America.

International game needs to be priority

A lot of people already know that the international game needs to be the pinnacle of the sport, but there are some who believe in the clubs over country policy.

If the recent international weekend didn’t turn a few heads as to just how good and entertaining international Tests can be then there probably wouldn’t be much more we could do to convince them.

The Denver Test between England and New Zealand had a bit of everything and nearly 20,000 witnessed the spectacle in the US. On the other side of the globe, there were Pacific island clashes in Australia. Papua New Guinea caused an upset as they beat last year’s World Cup semi-finalists Fiji, while Tonga continued their impressive form by edging past rivals Samoa. The haka was spine tingling, too.

There needs to be more international Test matches in the rugby league calendar, without a doubt.

A new era for New South Wales             

Brad Fittler couldn’t have dreamt for a better start to his time as coach of New South Wales.

The Blues beat Queensland 18-14 to clinch the State of Origin series for just the second time in 13 years. Fittler has a young squad at his disposal and it certainly looks like they could be a serious force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr, Nathan Cleary, Tom Trbojevic and Jake Trbojevic are in the form of their lives right now and look near-unstoppable. It could be a successful couple of years for the Blues.

England’s future is very bright

Is this the best England team that we have seen in years?

It is hard to argue against that question when you have got top quality players like Daryl Clark, Mike McMeeken, Stevie Ward, Tom Johnstone, Josh Charnley, Ryan Sutton, Adam Milner, Paul McShane, Sam Tomkins, Michael Shenton and Danny Richardson missing out on selection in Wayne Bennett’s side.

The 17-man England team that beat New Zealand on Saturday was bursting with talent and in every position, too. We haven’t always had strength in depth in certain areas but we have that in abundance now. The future is very, very bright for England.

Pacific islands are on the rise

Who doesn’t love watching the Pacific island nations in action?

They are classed as ‘tier two’ nations but they all played like ‘tier one’ nations on the weekend. Papua New Guinea’s pride got them a surprise win over Fiji, who impressed a hell of a lot of people in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

And Tonga are just wonderful to watch. Jason Taumalolo did a fantastic job on Saturday to lead the Mate Ma’a to a win over arch rivals Samoa. It was a cracking spectacle in the double header and Toa Samoa were much improved on the back of their poor World Cup campaign.

The Pacific islands should be certainly taken seriously, for sure. The gap is closing between ‘tier one’ and ‘tier two’ nations.