Widdop backs England to leapfrog Australia
Australia should be relegated to third in rugby league's world rankings for the first time in 60 years should England win their upcoming series against New Zealand, according to St George Illawarra five-eighth Gareth Widdop.
The English pivot – set to play his most important role in an international series – made the comment at his team's plush St George's Park headquarters at Burton On Trent yesterday as he prepared for Saturday's international against France.
New Zealand's win in this year's Anzac Test allowed them to gazump the World Cup holders in the official Rugby League International Federation rankings, which are based on a complicated mathematical formula.
Asked if the green and golds were now at risk of sinking to an unprecedented third – a position they have not held officially or notionally since missing the first World Cup final in 1954 – Widdop told NRL.com: "I think we should (jump them in the rankings).
"It would be nice, wouldn't it? We've still got a long way to go but in the last few years we've been close and it's certainly been disappointing. We've got to keep working hard and the results will come.
"It would be nice for England to get some recognition in rugby league. To win a tournament like this and do well would be huge for rugby league in England.
"You always want to win, you always want to be at the top so those Aussie boys would be hurting not being number one.
"They wouldn't like the English being ahead of them either. It would certainly be disappointing for them."
Like a fighter who refuses to defend his belt, the Australians declined to play this Spring, citing player welfare. Great Britain had wanted to reform after an eight-year absence for a southern hemisphere tour.
England coach Steve McNamara believes Australia deserves to stay in the top two for at least another 13 months.
"Probably not (this series) – we've got to do it over a consistent period of time," McNamara said. "We've got rack victories up. Not only one year, you've got to back it up.
"That's probably what's put New Zealand in front of the rest at the minute – that they've, barring the World Cup, managed to get across the line in a couple of tournaments.
"We've not done that yet. If we get that done this year and we back that up next year in the Four Nations, you'd probably think we'll start to challenge the top two."
The New Zealand All Golds kicked off international rugby league by touring Britain in 1907 and taking on the Northern Union, making the Shaky Island and England the game's only two competing countries.
But it could be argued Australia were not outside the top two from the moment they joined the party in 1908 – although France had a period of dominance in 1950s and played Great Britain in the '54 World Cup final.
McNamara said: "We've been very competitive the last couple of years. We've been a couple of seconds from a win and hit the goalposts, a penalty kick, had some brilliant games against both New Zealand and Australia.
"We've got France first up and then three Tests against New Zealand. If we win all four of those games, we'll see where it puts us."
Meanwhile, Widdop says he's surprised at New Zealand's apparent lack of interest in selecting his Dragons halves partner Benji Marshall.
"As an outsider it's surprising but the coaches, I guess they've got their reasons why he hasn't been selected.
"Like I said, he's had a good year so it's quite surprising. There was a lot of banter around at the time it came out (he might play for Scotland). He's a proud Kiwi and he'd love to have represented his country again.
"At the time I saw him, he wasn't sure if he was having surgery. I'd like to wish him well with that and we'll see him next year.
"For him, it's obviously a bit disappointing he's not on the tour."
Fullback Sam Tomkins was kept out of contact at training due to a niggling leg injury and he is in doubt for Saturday's Leigh international against France. New Zealand made their first public appearance at a Leeds training session on Tuesday morning.