Former England captain James Graham says he doesn’t expect Australia and New Zealand to have a change of heart and reverse their decision not to play at the 2021 World Cup.
Graham, 35, is now a pundit Down Under after making 187 appearances in the NRL during a nine-year spell, before hanging up his boots as a Grand Final winner with St Helens at the end of last season.
He played at the 2008, 2013 and 2017 World Cups, and says he hopes that the players denied the chance to play for the Kangaroos and Kiwis can find other nations to represented.
“I can’t see them changing their mind,” said Graham, who has called for the creation of a think tank to shake up the international game. “I really do hope I’m wrong but they’re not the type to do a U-turn on this.
“Part of me hopes that a majority of the 48 players denied an opportunity to play for Australia and New Zealand find another nation to represent.
“Victor Radley can play for England and Tyson Frizell for Wales again, wouldn’t that be great? I even saw Ryan Papenhuyzen put out a tweet about the Dutch coming in.
“It would be player power to say ‘we wanted to play and we’re going to play, it’s just not going to be under your banner’.
“But that’s a bit of an emotional response, to put one back on them.
“What we probably need is to get some really good minds together and come up with a plan to grow the game at international level.
“It’s something that needs to be looked at very carefully by some people who don’t have self-interest at heart.
“And it’s not just the NRL, clubs in the UK are just as guilty at having self-interest at the forefront of their minds.
“I get it, I understand it, but if you want to grow the game internationally you’ve got to let go of that.
“I know how important it is to get this right for the future of our game, both in England and internationally.”
World Cup organisers issued a statement at the start of this week following an emergency board meeting, with further meetings planned this week.
The UK Government is involved in the talks, having contributed significant funding to the tournament, as well as providing support and assurances regarding player welfare.
If Australia and New Zealand do not change their decision, and the World Cup does still go ahead, the next discussion will be over what happens in their absence.
There have been suggestions that a team made up of eligible players based in Europe could be put together, while some are calling for two nations who missed out on qualifying, such as Serbia and USA, to be drafted in.
With players increasingly voicing their desire to play, there have been suggestions that select sides could be put together of players based in the NRL anyway – such as a New Zealand Maori team, which did compete at the 2000 World Cup – similar to during the Super League war which impacted the 1995 World Cup.
It remains to be seen if there will be any issues regarding player availability for the tournament.
While the NRL is duty bound to release players for international rugby league, there are question marks over whether they would attempt to block call ups for players to other nations.
The majority of players expected to feature at the World Cup come from the NRL, who have attributed their stance to player welfare and ensuring players can have the required six-week break after quarantine prior to the start of the 2022 season.