IF the idea has been floating around for a decade, can we still congratulate Rugby League for doing it? I think so….
The State of Origin period – and more recently the ‘representative weekend’ - in Australia has always been ripe for international rugby league development. The NRL clubs are in partial recess, with bye rounds enforced, and the public there is hungry for content.
The problem with Origin is that we only had it on weekends one year, in 2001, and the Australians insist on Wednesday night (where it was originally placed to minimise impact on club games) because it rates so well on television. This means at some clubs play every weekend during the series and they are unlikely to release even more players than those they are - some would say unfairly - already forced to stand down for the State games.
The representative weekend, on the other hand, provides only logistical hurdles. There is no club rugby league down under on these weekends. It should be our FIFA window but flying players around the world and back in the space of a week is difficult and expensive.
This year the RFL managed to jump those hurdles, play and win a successful Test against Samoa. Next year, the mid-season Australia-New Zealand Test is being scrapped and replaced by one weekend Origin.
So it was almost a probability that New Zealand play England on that weekend. Inasmuch as we can trust the NRL to stick to anything long term, the fixture will stay in the years that follow. England coach Wayne Bennett's enthusiasm for this has led to speculation he will stay on after this year's World Cup.
And we should encourage other countries to organise fixtures on this weekend and make that 'FIFA window' idea happen. The fact is, everyone but Australia could and should play – although if there are Super League fixtures, getting releases for all players might be problematic.
Let's examine a couple of scenarios.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, with England the home nation in one of these fixtures against New Zealand, Super League was suspended and we had a number of Pacific nations in the northern hemisphere playing local opposition.
Cooks v PNG - or could they face Scotland?
Origin is still a massive draw for TV viewers
Scotland v Samoa Thursday night, England v New Zealand Friday, Ireland v the United States on Saturday? What about a sort of ‘International Magic’ day, replicating what happened at Campbelltown? A full day of Test matches at one venue and a carnival atmosphere while in the southern hemisphere the Aussies build up to Origin with some northern hemisphere tourists like France and Italy taking on Papua New Guinea and Fiji?
Now, let’s extrapolate a little more.
Next year represents a ‘push-back’ against the commercial pressures keeping Origin on Wednesday night because it is such a rating winner. Perhaps the TV networks are being slowly weaned off the concept. It would therefore be fair to assume we are moving towards three weekend Origins.
If this was to happen, it is highly unlikely (at first – more glacier-paced evolution needed) the games would be on consecutive weekends.
So I put this to you, dear reader: would it be acceptable for New Zealand and England to play a three-Test series during which players are released back to their clubs between the internationals?
Bennett gave his thoughts on the International round when in New Zealand last week
Fiji v Tonga - Could it be an annual fixture?
That is, one week England and New Zealand players travel from the UK and Australia to Auckland for a Test. They then go back to Australia and England for a week and turn out for their clubs. Then they all travel to, say, Manchester, for the Second Test, then all go home again, and then all head off to Auckland or London after another appearance in the NRL or Super League?
It’s food for thought – and they are about to introduce direct flights from Perth to Heathrow….
When it happens, we won't say 'remember where you read it first'. We'll just say 'thank you'.