England prop James Graham tackled by the New Zealand defence.

Bennett, NRL's England stars back Denver Test

England coach Wayne Bennett and his eight Australian-based stars have banded together to call for the game to build on the success of the World Cup by playing June’s proposed Test against New Zealand in Denver.

The RLIF have sanctioned the June 23 Test during the code’s first stand-alone representative weekend in both hemispheres but NRL clubs have expressed concerns about their English and Kiwis stars playing at altitude.

With the Test in danger of being scrapped by Moore Sports, the promoters behind the 2025 World Cup in North America, without the support of NRL clubs, Bennett and the Australian-based players have spoken out.

In a statement, signed by the likes of St George Illawarra Dragons captain Gareth Widdop, prop James Graham and South Sydney Rabbitohs star Sam Burgess, the players said insurance coverage for the Test was greater than at the World Cup.

Others to put their name to the statement are Bennett, Canberra Raiders duo Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson, Newcastle Knights forward Chris Heighington and Burgess’s brothers George and Thomas.

“We would like to place on record our absolute support for the upcoming Rugby League International game between England and New Zealand, scheduled to be played in Denver in June,” the statement said.

“We believe that the 2017 Rugby League World Cup in Australia demonstrated the value of the international game to our sport.

“We all collectively said at the time that it was important we took the opportunity to try and grow the game globally and believe that this mid-season window provides the perfect opportunity for the sport to showcase itself to a new public in North America.

“Whilst we understand that there have been some concerns regarding player welfare, the England Chief Medical Officer, Dr Chris Brookes, has made it clear to us that he has no additional concerns with this game being played in Denver and the insurance that has now been put in place is more comprehensive than any other in the history of International Rugby League.

“We have spoken with our English based teammates who have received the full support of their Super League clubs and we are all in agreement that it is important that this game takes place.

“We are looking forward to meeting up as a squad in June and, if selected, walking out in Denver to take on New Zealand.”

Sam Burgess told NRL.Com in an interview on Monday that he believed the Test had the backing of the RLPA.

“I think it has been a bit of a misunderstood, I think the RLPA do want the Test to go ahead. Players want to play, the RLPA want to make it happen, the RFL want to make it happen.

“It could be seen as short sighted if we don’t want the game to be played there – I think potentially a lack of vision.

“I am sure if you took an Origin to America no one would bat an eyelid. I want to play the game, it is great for the international game and showcasing what we have in North America.”

Sam Burgess in action for England against New Zealand.
Sam Burgess in action for England against New Zealand. ©Colin Whelan./NRL Photos.

Burgess said he had been to Denver with the England rugby union team for a two-week camp to train at altitude.

“We went there for a benefit, I don’t think there is anything too bad with it. We trained extremely intensively there for two weeks. It is a great place and a sports mad city. I will be extremely disappointed if it doesn’t happen”

Brookes, the England team’s chief medical officer since 2000, rejected claims that the travel and altitude would make the players more susceptible to injury.  

“The stadium is 1,600 above sea level and there is no scientific evidence to support there being any health issues of playing at that height,” told the Daily Mirror.

“In fact, I’m aware of many sports teams, especially in South Africa, that play at a much higher altitude.”

The Test will be played on the same weekend as the stand-alone Origin match at ANZ Stadium on June 25 and the Pacific Test double-header at Campbelltown Stadium featuring Samoa versus Tonga and Papua New Guinea against Lebanon.

Brookes believes the fixture in Denver would be less of a risk to participating players than the trend of NSW and Queensland players backing up for their club teams as little as 48 hours after a Wednesday night State of Origin.

“There have been lengthy studies into injuries and travel and there is nothing to support whether travel increases the risk to injury,” he said.

“What now underpins that is the meticulous attention to detail in terms of after-match recovery, and attention will be paid to appropriate hydration, the compression of limbs during the journey and utilising the latest sports science to its best effect.

“That’s what the England players coming back to Super League would be given, and my recommendations to the NRL players going back Australia would be exactly the same. It’s an area of sports science in which there have been huge advances.”