Britain sow, Australia reap

Click to follow

It makes a change. Just for now, British rugby league can stop worrying about the predations of union and come to terms again with an older threat – league in Australia.

There have been times – the early 70s and the Super League wars of the mid-90s – when the Aussies threatened to drain the best British talent. Tour parties a quarter of a century ago used to struggle through the Antipodes while top players were kept under lock and key by their Australian clubs.

Things have been quiet on that front for some time – largely, some would say, because we have had few players they would want. Only Adrian Morley, finding his form for Sydney City after a broken arm, plies his trade in the National Rugby League.

That is about to change, with Warrington's Ian Sibbit becoming an unlikely signing for the Melbourne Storm, Australian champions two years ago. Their chief executive, Chris Johns, saw the 21-year-old Sibbit in a vein of scoring form earlier this season and believes he has potential. A converted back-rower making a good fist of redeployment as a centre, Sibbit would nevertheless have been long odds to become the second Pom in the NRL.

The third could be Wakefield's teenaged prop forward, Keith Mason, who looked good for Wales against England in July, but who is definitely a case of raw promise. "I think it's a positive thing," says the League's director of rugby, Greg McCallum. "It's an endorsement of our game and they'll come back better."

Sibbit is out of Warrington's team to play Bradford today with an ankle injury and the game is the last for two other Wolves who are joining Cronulla in the NRL – Tawera Nikau and Danny Nutley.

That marks another trend – NRL players spending time in England and then returning to the world's strongest competition. At one time, playing here was the equivalent of dropping into the void, but that is no longer the case, with Wigan's Matthew Johns another who will be welcomed back with open arms.

Like the recruitment of young Poms, it can be interpreted as a compliment to rising standards in Britain – but it is a back-handed one.

Comments