McNamara open to international break
Off the back of another successful Representative Round, culminating in New Zealand's fantastic display to down Australia on Sunday, England coach Steve McNamara revealed he is open to an association football-style international break being introduced by rugby league's governing bodies in the coming years.
With Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Fiji having also participated in the 2015 Representative Round – and other nations like Lebanon and Malta facing off – England continued on with their Super League, which McNamara labelled "advantageous" for everyone bar England.
While he admitted it would take a lot of things to fall into place for it to happen, the idea of a worldwide Representative Round was only seen as beneficial by McNamara – who also doubles as an assistant coach at the Sydney Roosters.
"I'm really open to the idea of an international break. I think there are so many things which have to come into play for it to happen – and that's on both sides of the world. Basically the two domestic competitions need to tie into each another to enable for that to happen properly," McNamara told NRL.com.
"It's a huge advantage to be playing as an international team mid-season. [England doesn't] have too many Test matches as is so every time you get the opportunity to play at that level, especially against a high standard of opposition, it's the biggest way of improving full stop.
"When Australia and New Zealand play mid-season, and you can probably throw the Origin games into that as well, the combinations they build with each other throughout these high-intensity games in my opinion give them a big advantage.
"We would love to play, particularly Australia and New Zealand, as many times as we possibly can. We're not complaining about it but in terms of moving forward I'm all for increased opportunities for the national teams. It's something we'd be keen to investigate."
Drawing from examples of the decrease in Test matches and the state international rugby league, where past Ashes Tours turned to Tri-Nations "where we had five shots at the best if we made the final", to the Four Nations where England had "one shot at the best if we didn't make the final", McNamara said his staff has done all it possibly could without actually playing consistently.
Up until four years ago, McNamara believed rugby league in England "didn't have an identity" and was "nomadic" in its processes.
Yet having found a base in Loughborough University – half hour north of Leicester – they have been able to establish their Elite Training Squad which was born out of past initiatives such as the NRL Exiles game and their reserve grade Test team England Knights – which involved the likes of Tom Burgess and Josh Hodgson the last time they played in 2013.
"We have made big strides in the English game, we have made adjustments to our programs over the past few years," McNamara said.
"But as we currently sit now we obviously don't get the opportunity to play mid-season Test matches because our domestic calendar rarely allows it."
Another big point of contention for rugby league in England lies in the growing number of players heading to the NRL from the Super League, as St George Illawarra and England five-eighth Gareth Widdop explained.
"Every year there seems to be more of us Englishmen coming out to play which obviously means the Super League isn't coming out of it looking the best because they're losing their best players," Widdop told NRL.com
"But if you look at it from the perspective of England as a nation – the more players we have out here playing against the Aussies, Kiwis and Samoans – the better chance we have of international success."
Widdop's words are not lost on McNamara, and while the further experience of his Test players is only going to be beneficial for some, he also has the best interests of the Super League in mind with it being the breeding ground of the core of his national team.
It's something McNamara labelled a "double-edged" sword.
"We really need a strong domestic competition in England. There are only really two domestic competitions in the world where the funding comes from the television and they are the NRL and Super League," McNamara said.
"We need to protect both of those products which will hopefully happen as we move forward. For our players to come and play in the NRL it has certainly improved quite a few of players who have come across and it's given them a great opportunity to perform at the highest level for us internationally.
"But playing 12,000 miles away from your family isn't for everybody so I think the balance has to stay right [between the two competitions]. We can't have every single one of our players go across to play in the NRL, it can't and won't happen. The experience these players across Australia have attained though has been beneficial."