Cheapening the jumper

HOW tempting must it have been for the Australian Rugby League to select the champion St George club side to play Great Britain in the Ashes Test series of 1962.

St George already had won six premierships in a row and boasted 10 Australian internationals and former Wallaby halfback, George Evans.

The 1962 British side, captained by Eric Ashton, won the first two Tests on tour and were beaten on the bell in the Third Test at the SCG.

Their only loss in 18 other matches was to Newcastle prior to the First Test, when some of the British stars were rested.

The prospect of St George being a better bet than the Australian side was widely discussed in league circles, particularly in Sydney, and a crowd of 57,744 turned up mid-week to watch the tourists play the Dragons in a challenge match several days after the Third Test.

Great Britain won 33-5, even though star halfback, Alex Murphy essentially played on one leg after taking a battering in the Third Test.

The result put an end to any idea of ditching traditional selection values in the representative arena, and in the process cheapening the jumper.

In 1933 Queensland fielded the champion Toowoomba side in Maroons colours for the first match of the inter-state series, but a fired up New South Wales won 24-0.

That was the end of that experiment.

There is talk the Wallabies might be best served fielding the entire Brumbies backline against the British Lions this year.

Without claiming to be an expert in matters rugby, such an idea appears to reflect on the standard of the five Australian franchises in the Super 15 competition.

But league people will look on with envy at the packed houses for the Lions campaign, given the days of Great Britain Rugby League Lions tours seem to be consigned to history.

Great Britain’s last full scale tour was 1992 when an estimated 10,000 people followed the side ‘down under’, and there wasn’t a back packer among them.

They were men and women from traditional league towns and cities in England’s north who had saved hard for a trip of a lifetime.

2020 might seem a long way off, but it’s not really, and with a bit of planning I believe the concept of a Great Britain tour could be sold to the Australian public.

The 2020 season will mark the centenary of the first Post World War 1 tour of Australia by England, as Great Britain were known then, and essentially it also can be regarded as the first tour to take the game to ‘the provinces.

The 1910 side played only in Sydney, Newcastle and Brisbane because the code was still struggling to spread its wings.

In 1914 England ventured to Adelaide, Melbourne, Ipswich and Bathurst, as well as Sydney, Brisbane and Newcastle.

But the 1920 outfit included Orange, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Toowoomba and Tamworth alongside the stock standard venues of Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney and Ipswich.

They were great ambassadors for the 13 man code and set the standard for future tours by British sides, the Kiwis and later the French, which ensured rugby league was the dominant code in New South Wales and Queensland.

A Great Britain tour of Australia once a decade surely wouldn’t be too much to ask, with grand finals in both countries played several weeks earlier than normal (we did it for the Olympics in 2000), with the tour to take place from mid-September to mid-November.

Tests could be played in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne with other matches against the Intrust Super Cup and New South Wales Cup champions at regional venues.

Throw in a Prime Ministers XIII clash in Canberra and a match against a Pacific Island selection in Sydney’s west and you have the makings of a decent tour.

Announce it five years out, and the Brits will save their hard earned again and support the team just as they did in 1992.

And this time, if league progresses in Wales, Ireland and Scotland over the next seven years, there could be players from all four countries.

Previous British teams invariably have included former Welsh union stars, as well as the odd Scot. But I don’t think we have ever had players from all four countries in the one side.

One can always dream.

One response to “Cheapening the jumper

  1. great idea, I would like to see the revival of Kangaroo tours of Great Britain & France, Games like Australia v Wigan are really appreciated by the English fans & are a great advertisement for the code.

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