We are at the time of year when everybody is trying to keep (or struggling to keep) to their New Year Resolutions and this set me thinking. What resoutions could the RL community make to best further the interests of the game?
An obvious choice would be to organise some meaningful international competitions and promote them properly. This could generate some much needed revenue and start to reverse the decline in media profile suffered by RL, particularly in the UK. It could also help reduce the flow of genuine RL stars such as Chris Ashton and Sonny Bill Williams to RU.
The RLIF (otherwise known as the ARL) should implement this proposal but unfortunately they do not seem to be willing. The RFL do their best but are in a difficult position when their main parners in Australia and NZ are less than enthusiastic. It has often been said that if we could "beat the Aussies" it might make a difference and our cricketing cousins are certainly demonstrating the relevance of this. It is unfortunate that SL and the NRL both use a franchising system for club competitions but at international level, which is much more important, we are still making decsions dependent upon results.
The performance of the England team in last years Four Nations was disappointing to say the least. We seem to be no nearer our performance goals than we were thirty years ago. Injuries played a part and we obviously underperformed but the players looked exhausted after a gruelling season. Maybe it is time to think oustide the box.
What if the RFL identified a squad of (say twenty five) international players and they were each awarded a central contract which limited the number of club games they could play per year? This squad, which needn't be exclusive, could focus on and prepare for a planned programme of international matches as happens in both cricket and RU. Obviously existing contracts would have to be allowed to expire.
There is then no reason why a fit, fresh, motivated and fully prepared England (or GB) side could not tour Australia and NZ in June/July, play internationals during the NRL season and give a very good account of themselves. This used to happen before the advent of Summer RL and could happen again.
As the England cricket team have demonstrated, a winning (or much improved) performance by the England/GB side could regain lost respect and reawaken the antipodean enthusiasm for international competition. Once the ball is rolling, we could then encourage Australia/NZ to reciprocate and play international matches in Europe during the SL season. If revenge is required or better still, if we hold the Ashes, can they refuse?