In 2018 New Zealand will tour Europe while the Lions will tour the Southern Hemisphere in 2019. The return of the tours have been a long time coming and has been greeted with joy by British Rugby League fans.
The World Cup in 2013 showed the International game at it’s very best. Passionate war dances, crunching tackles and packed stadiums brought some much needed excitement. Now it’s time to build on that and bringing back the Lions tour is just what was needed.
On the face of it, team selection will not really be affected with the side likely to be all English playing in red, white and blue, unless St Helens’ Welsh starlet Regan Grace develops into International standard by 2019.
However, the history of Great Britain brings nostalgia to fans that you just don’t get when watching England. When you see the a British kit with the iconic lion badge on the chest you get flashbacks of Jonathan Davies rounding Brett Mullins at Wembley, Henderson Gill boogying in Sydney and Mike Gregory going 60 metres to send a mixture of Wigan, Bradford and Leeds shirts into raptures. Even during the early noughties, a cold November night under the lights of a packed stadium in Wigan felt special compared to a Sunday afternoon at a half-filled London Stadium.
The details of the tour, such as the teams that will feature and the number of players in the squad have yet to be confirmed. The tour should replicate the tours during the 80s and 90s and the current British and Irish Lions rugby union tour. In 1992 Malcolm Reilly took a touring party of 39 players for an Ashes series where fringe players would play club sides such as Newcastle and Canberra without their international stars in between tests. Surely players such as Alex Walmsley and Liam Watts coming toe to toe with Kane Evans and Dylan Napa of Sydney Roosters would be much more beneficial than steamrolling the likes of France and Ireland for the Knights. This is if the Aussie club sides buy into the tour and do not play a completely youthful side.
The 1992 tour also included a leg of Papua New Guinea where the British scraped past the Kumuls 20-14 in front of over 7000 in Port Moresby. A start has been made to develop tier two nations with PNG Hunters currently in the Queensland Cup and then last weekend the Pacific Cup tests showcased the talents on show. More games are needed for nations such as Fiji and PNG and surely a British side playing tier two nations would be beneficial for both sides. Whether these ideas would be feasible with the amount of games professional players are already playing is another matter but it is something that should be looked into.
All in all the return of Great Britain is great news for the game and it will come some way in making International rugby league the pinnacle of the sport once again.