England coach Steve McNamara assured over 2012 internationals

 

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The Independent Online

England coach Steve McNamara was today promised a full international programme in 2012 despite the Four Nations going into cold storage.

Australia, who regained the Four Nations crown in Leeds at the weekend, are sticking by their pledge to give their players an extended off season to prepare for the next World Cup, which is being hosted by England and Wales at the end of the 2013 season.

And England's back-up plans for a Test series against New Zealand look to have been scuppered today by the Kiwis, who are similarly reluctant to overload their leading players.

The Rugby Football League will publish the 2012 Super League fixtures on Friday and are likely to include two mid-season dates for England internationals against the Exiles, including a stand-alone weekend fixture.

But England finished their 2011 international campaign at Elland Road on Saturday with no clear idea of their next Test-match opposition.

McNamara and England captain Jamie Peacock have stressed the importance of building on the progress made in the recent Four Nations, and RFL chairman Richard Lewis today issued an assurance that he will deliver a full programme.

"We'll be announcing pretty soon what the schedule will be but we haven't anything to announce yet," said Lewis, who is vice-chairman of the International Federation.

"England will have a full schedule for sure."

Australia will remain Four Nations champions until 2014 when they are due to host the next tournament, and Lewis insists the Kangaroos' "sabbatical" is not a setback for international rugby league.

"That could work in our favour," he said. "We've got to get hungrier and hungrier. The World Cup is going to be on our own territory and we've shown glimpses of what we can do.

"We're going to work hard to get things right on the big occasion in two years' time.

"It was probably an opportunity missed at the weekend but England are heading in the right direction.

"If England had played like they had in the previous two weeks it could have been a very different contest but, from other points of view, I think England has really come alive as a brand.

"People really got behind the England rugby league team in the last four or five weeks and it's a terrific step forward."

In the absence of the Aussies, the RFL were thought to be considering a Pacific tour on the lines of 1996, when Great Britain played Fiji and Papua New Guinea as well as New Zealand.

But Jim Doyle, the Scotland-born chief executive of NZRL, cast doubt on that idea today.

In an interview with New Zealand's Radio Sport, Doyle said: "We were trying to get England to come out and play one game against us and also the Pacific Island All Stars and the Indigenous All Stars but that requires the NRL and all the clubs to release the players.

"It's still not dead but it doesn't look likely at this point in time. With the potential burn-out of players, they need a bit of a rest from a tough season so we're looking potentially to play Australia and maybe a Pacific Island side.

"It would have been good to introduce the Pacific Island All Stars. It is harder to get a crowd to come along and watch England play Samoa than it would be to watch England play against a world Pacific All Stars.

"Therefore for England to come down here and fund the whole cost is quite a difficult ask for England."

England can always play Wales and France, who took part in the European Cup this year after failing to qualify for the Four Nations, but Peacock insists they need to continue to be tested at the highest level.

"We need matches at that kind of intensity," he said. "I know the Aussies have got an agreement with the NRL clubs that they can't play but we need to do something to get the team back together again.

"Hopefully we'll have the Exiles game again which should be good, but quite a few NRL-based players won't be in that game so hopefully we can do something at the end of the year."

Peacock's call was echoed by former Leeds forward Gareth Ellis, one of four NRL-based players in the England team.

"I've fully enjoyed the six weeks we've spent together and I can't wait for the next time," he said.

"Hopefully something can come up and we'll be talking about bigger and better things this time next year."

Meanwhile, the RFL have confirmed no action will be taken against Australia scrum-half Johnathan Thurston for a high tackle on Ryan Hall in England's 30-8 defeat at Elland Road, deeming that the awarding of a penalty try was sufficient punishment.

The RFL are still considering their response to comments made by New Zealand hooker Issac Luke, who claimed in an interview in Sydney at the weekend he deliberately tried to break the leg of Rangi Chase during England's 28-6 win over the Kiwis in Hull nine days ago.

PA

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