RL Weekly: Wane’s Rebuild, Angry Cougars & A Cup Cracker

Shaun Wane spoke to the media this week for the first time since his contract as England's head coach was renewed
13:00, 30 Mar 2023

Shaun Wane needs to learn from the pain of failure, refresh an ageing squad, and then hope he’s given a fixture list with which to propel England to the next level of international rugby league.

Speaking to the media this week for the first time since his contract as head coach was renewed, and despite the crushing disappointment of a premature World Cup exit, Wane displayed all the bullish enthusiasm that his players love in their leader. 

Wane’s position had to be under scrutiny following England’s glorious missed opportunity - a home World Cup that offered a realistic shot at meaningful legacy, but ended with a whimper in a soul-destroying semi-final defeat to a Samoa side they had hammered already in the group stage.


So instead of building on the springboard of success, England will rebuild, and go again.

There was no real reason to replace Wane. He is the best man for the job and the players would die for him. But these scars feel deep. Even Wane admits he is still hurting. 

“I won’t get over that for a long time,” he admitted.

“It really impacted me. The competition was the best six weeks of my life but the way we finished was so disappointing. We’ve analysed everything, starting with me, and it still tortures me to this day.

“Did we train too hard? Did we not train hard enough? We’ve really gone into a lot of detail and come up with a few decisions about how we can do things better.”

First of all Wane needs a fixture list. 

The one confirmed fixture is against France in Warrington at the end of April, and fans can expect a young squad for that one as Wane sets about refreshing his ageing playing pool. I’m told an end-of-season series with Tonga will happen and, barring any late curve balls, that will be announced once the finer details have been agreed. 

In the absence of persuading Australia and New Zealand to get involved in international trips outside of major tournaments, this - for now - is as good as it gets.

Wane needs a new assistant coach too, and a new captain, with trusted ally Sam Tomkins admitting that his old body will have to step away from the unforgiving sport later this year. 

Knowing the tightness of the bond between Tomkins and Wane, plus the Catalans full-back’s imminent path into a coaching role in France, it is a no brainer that he will remain close to Wane in the England set up. The boss is staying coy on that but there is no way that the experience and rugby brain of Wane’s trusted Wigan foot-soldier will be lost from the England camp.  

IMG, the global management company entrusted with a long-term revitalisation of rugby league, insists they are right behind the international game as a means of doing so. Wane will hope that means a fuller fixture list to work with as soon as possible. 

The more controversial IMG plans are taking place domestically, as the game heads back to licensing or franchising, over the traditional romance of promotion and relegation. This was essentially tried before and deemed not to be the way forward, so was scrapped. And so, much like England, we go again.

Understandably the most vocal detractors are the more ambitious clubs outside of the Betfred Super League. Impressive Featherstone look well-positioned to finally make their much sought-after step up to the big table, as Sean Long’s side dominate the Championship season. But as it stands, all their on-field efforts may be guaranteed is one year in the big time before the goalposts are repositioned on other criteria the following season. 

Fev are unsurprisingly nonplussed with this scenario, but it is Keighley Cougars who have emerged as the most forceful opponents. 

The 2022 Betfred League One champions have lofty aspirations under popular owners Kaue Garcia and Ryan O’Neill, but are furious at attempts to shape the future of the sport from a boardroom rather than on a rugby pitch. 

Such is their ire, the pair took their case to parliament this week, voicing their displeasure at “fake expansion, spreadsheet grading and arrogant elitism” which they believe will “kill the sport”.

This is an absolutely crunch time for rugby league as it fights for a meaningful position in the global sports conversation. And realistically there could now be a very trying period of resistance before things start to get better. Rugby league though is well-weathered in division and in-fighting, and will always fight through it.

Thankfully the on-field product is - as ever - flying, with Leeds and Catalans producing a stunning spectacle for Channel 4 viewers at Headingley last weekend and Salford’s trip to Wigan providing an equally exhilarating offering for Sky Sports viewers.

So more of the same on The Sportsman this weekend please! 

Our cameras will be at Dewsbury for their Betfred Challenge Cup Fourth Round tie with John Kear’s Widnes Vikings.

Former Widnes half-back Kevin Brown will be alongside me for commentary on one of the ties of the round, as we look forward to seeing whether punditry favourite Kyle Amor can still play as good a game as he talks...

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