Remembering England’s two previous EUROs final victories… in rugby league

Ben Olawumi
'European Rugby League' logo, Rob Burrow playing for England, John Kear as England head coach

England's rugby league side twice won a EUROs final, with Rob Burrow starring in both and John Kear in charge for one

Wednesday night saw England book their spot in the final of UEFA EURO 2024 over in Germany, with Ollie Watkins’ dramatic last-gasp winner seeing Gareth Southgate’s side beat The Netherlands 2-1 in Dortmund.

It’s the first time – in football – that the nation has ever reached a final in a major tournament on foreign soil, and the second successive EUROs in which England have reached the showpiece.

That last-four victory got us thinking, and casting our minds back to when there was a similar competition in rugby league – and the two occasions that saw England’s team in 0ur sport reach the final of a ‘EUROs’.

The Rugby League European Championship was first held in 1935, and England – who haven’t competed in it for 20 years – have tasted silverware in the tournament on 14 occasions.

But only four times has the competition ever included an actual final, and on both of the two occasions that saw England involved in a showpiece, they were successful…

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2003 – England 68-6 France

After a seven-year absence, rugby league’s ‘EUROs’ returned in ’03 as the re-branded ‘European Nations Cup’.

Six teams were involved, split into two groups of three which were played out round-robin format with the two winners qualifying for the final.

England – whose side officially went down as an ‘A’ team – beat both Wales (22-4) & Russia (102-0) in their group, while France pipped Scotland & Ireland on points difference, with each of those having won one and lost one in the group stage.

Danny Tickle
Danny Tickle represented England & Lancashire during a career which saw him make over 500 appearances

Held at Warrington Wolves’ Wilderspool, the final saw John Kear’s England side trounce France. Mark Calderwood, then of Leeds Rhinos, scored four of England’s 12 tries on the day, with the late, great Rob Burrow also grabbing a brace.

Danny Tickle converted nine of those tries, with Jamie Rooney also successful with the boot on one occasion.

Teddy Sadaoui scored the only try for Gilles Dumas’ France side, with Laurent Frayssinous – who is now the head coach of the nation – converting.

2,536 were in attendance at the final.

England: Shaun Briscoe, Mark Calderwood, Stuart Reardon, Martin Aspinwall, Ade Gardner, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Andy Lynch, Matt Diskin, Rob Parker, Danny Tickle, Gareth Hock, Sean O’Loughlin (Bench: Jamie Rooney, Danny Sculthorpe, Rob Purdham, Ian Sibbit

Tries: Calderwood (4), Burrow (2), Hock (2), Aspinwall, Gardner, Lynch, Parker

Goals: Tickle (9), Rooney

France: Frederic Banquet, Michael Van Snick, Fabrice Estebanez, Teddy Sadaoui, Fourcade Abasse, Laurent Frayssinous, Julien Rinaldi, Marc Faumuina, David Berthezene, Oliver Pramil, Pascal Jampy, John Wiagafa, Laurent Carrasco (Bench: Julien Gerin, Rachid Hechiche, Pierre Sabatie, Sebastien Azema)

Tries: Sadaoui

Goals: Frayssinous

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2004 – England 36-12 Ireland

The following year, the tournament retained the same format, with England drawn against Russia (98-4) & France (42-4), beating them both to top Group 2.

In an all-home nations Group 1, Ireland beat both Wales (25-12) & Scotland (43-10) in Port Talbot & Dublin respectively to tee up a final against England, again held in Warrington, with this showpiece at the newly-opened Halliwell Jones Stadium.

England – headed up by Karl Harrison – raced into a 24-0 lead come the break, and had the trophy sewn up by then.

Rob Burrow
In a career which saw him make over 500 appearances, the late, great Rob Burrow represented England, Great Britain & Yorkshire

A couple of Ireland tries – from David Bates & Barrie McDermott – made the final scoreline a little more respectable though, 36-12 it ended. The Wolfhounds were coached by Andy Kelly.

Burrow was again among England’s try-scorers, and this time around, he stepped up to kick six from six with the boot in front of a crowd of 3,582.

Mark Calderwood & Rob Parker were also on the scoresheet for the second year running in the ‘EUROs’ final.

England: Paul Reilly, Mark Calderwood, Ben Westwood, Kirk Yeaman, Lee Greenwood, Jon Wilkin, Luke Robinson, Ewan Dowes, Rob Burrow, Andy Lynch, Rob Parker, Andy Coley, Jamie Langley (Bench: Richard Whiting, Eorl Crabtree, Shaun Briscoe, Nick Scruton)

Tries: Reilly (2), Burrow, Calderwood, Parker, Scruton

Goals: Burrow (6)

Ireland: Stuart Littler, Carl De Chenu, Martin McLoughlin, Lee Doran, Ian Dowling, Karl Fitzpatrick, Pat Weisner, David Bates, Phil Cantillon, Barrie McDermott, Matt McConnell, Ged Corcoran, Tommy Gallagher (Bench: John Gallagher, Paul Dorley, Declan Foy, Paul Southern)

Tries: Bates, McDermott

Goals: Weisner (2)

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What happened next to rugby league’s ‘EUROs’?

The EUROs continued again in the same format in both 2005 & 2009, but England weren’t involved on either occasion.

Then becoming the ‘European Cup’ – involving three of four teams each time and returning to a round-robin format – they were held four times between 2010 and 2018, with the England Knights crowned champions in 2012.

And just when the EUROs were set for a return, with a promotion and relegation system adopted, the COVID-19 Pandemic struck in 2020.

Ollie Watkins goal celebration v The Netherlands
Semi-final hero Ollie Watkins (centre) was eight years old when England’s rugby league team last played in a EUROs. Kobbie Mainoo (left), celebrating with the striker, wasn’t even born!

More recently, with England back involved, a EUROs tournament should have taken place in 2023 – and a draw for the group stage had been carried out.

France’s withdrawal as World Cup hosts in 2025 scuppered that though, with everything pushed back and no news as yet as to when we might see anything resembling a EUROs in rugby league again.

Ah well… at least it might be coming home on Sunday! 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

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