Rugby League Weekly: Samoa Backtrack, Salford Setback & Burrow Wisecracks

Another stacked week of rugby league news
17:00, 16 Nov 2023

Samoa have stifled the momentum of international rugby league by pulling out of their England tour, Salford are fighting for their future amidst a stadium feud and Rob Burrow is gaining even more fans with his latest podcast. 

That Samoa would tour England next autumn was never a certainty, but the World Cup semi-final rematch was widely expected to be confirmed as a three-match series following Tonga’s recent 3-0 defeat to Shaun Wane’s fired up troops.

That Samoa have changed their mind to instead compete in the Pacific Championships against Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea is a huge blow to both England and the growth of the international game, with Wane’s side now once again staring at a blank calendar for 2024, before a planned tour Down Under the following year and a Southern Hemisphere World Cup in 2026.

So what the hell do England do now?

The options seem pretty clear but not particularly appealing across the board, given England need a meaningful annual series against consistently strong opposition if they are to close the gap on the big boys Down Under.

England could take a year off. Let’s get the worst option out of the way first. It has to be a possibility that it goes this way, but in truth this would be a worst case scenario. Even if the void was filled by a popular return for the Yorkshire v Lancashire series, it wouldn’t really do England much good.

A series against France. This would give Wane time back in camp with his squad but not really much else. France are nowhere near the level of England, as was shown in this year’s mid-season international, and although these fixtures will help the French improve, they do England no good at all. As England prop Chris Hill told The Mirror this week, “no disrespect to France but I don’t really see the point of facing them.”

Another series against the Combined Nations All Stars. 
See above. These games are of little benefit to England, unless an all-star team could be sent from the NRL. But that feels a non-starter given the depth of talent competing in the Pacific Championships. 

A Home Nations series. This would be good for Wales, Scotland and Ireland and garner a fair degree of interest, but England would win every game comfortably and be no better for it.


England go Down Under and join the party. 
This feels like the option that has to happen. The British game is not cash-rich so supporting a tour like this would not be ideal, but is likely to be Wane’s top target given the landscape now in front of him. If England are to be closer to their rivals by the 2026 World Cup then they have to go and play them. Back the squad to go and compete in the Pacific Championships, and persuade everyone else that this is a good idea. 
A fly in this ointment could be the timings, given the Betfred Super League Grand Final is likely to coincide with the start of the tournament, so England may have to be given a week or so wriggle room with the new domestic calendar.

Elsewhere this week Rob Burrow’s latest podcast features one of the great union players who admits he came close to a dabble at league. 

In the second episode of Seven, Rob asks England’s World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson if he ever came close to switching codes and the drop goal king admits he did have an offer from Super League champions Wigan.

“I probably watch more rugby league than I do rugby union,” says Wilkinson. “It’s been like that for a long time.

“I always wondered if I could adapt. And I had an opportunity. I was injured so long I had a couple of opportunities.

“It was just a few months around the Wigan team at the time and there was part of me that thought I’d love to go find out.”

The way Burrow’s guests have embraced the moment in engaging with the Leeds legend on his podcast platform just underlines how he has become a national treasure that everyone wants to get to know. 
And don’t be surprised by his scripted wisecracks. Rob is absolutely hilarious, and as brutal as Motor Neurone Disease is in depriving its victims of so much within its devastating grip, the one thing it cannot take from Rob is his humour and smile.

Salford meanwhile fired a powerful warning shot at the local council this week as uncertainty over the ownership of their stadium threatens to disrupt their preparations for the new season. 
The Red Devils went as far as to say they could be liquidated if Salford City Council don’t end the impasse on the tenancy agreement which ends on December 1. 
“We are routinely reaching for the stars whilst simultaneously having our hands tied behind our backs,” said a strongly-worded club statement which claimed the stadium row was behind the recent sale of star players Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers to Leeds.

And there has been more transfer activity this week with Warrington boss Sam Burgess signing hooker Sam Powell from Wigan, and London snapping up prop Rhys Kennedy from Hull KR. 

It feels like shrewd business from Burgess as he looks to hit the ground running in his first ever job as a head coach.

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