England hope Exiles idea will pack as big a punch as State of Origin

The plan behind tonight's clash at Leeds is to match the intensity of Australia's deadliest rivalry in order to give the hosts a much-needed boost at Test level

Almost 31 years ago, Queensland and New South Wales took the field to play each other under a controversial new rule. Instead of representing the state where you played your club rugby league, you wore the colours – maroon or blue – of the one where you originated.

The sceptics said it could never work, that the concept of "state against state, mate against mate" was fatally flawed.

But then the Queensland veteran, Artie Beetson, walloped his Parramatta team-mate and good friend, Mick Cronin, and the legend of State of Origin was born.

Although there has been a lot more to it than pals being prepared to thump each other, it has, since that day in Brisbane, become synonymous with everything that is intense and confrontational in rugby league.

It has also been Australia's built-in advantage. Before their players get to Test level, they have been through the furnace of Origin. It is no coincidence that since its inception, they have not lost a series or a major tournament to a British side.

Small wonder, then, that in this country we have been desperate to emulate it. There was a half-hearted attempt to do so with the War of the Roses, an annual match between Lancashire and Yorkshire, but that was more like two old men bickering over a pint of mild than deadly rivals going for each other's throats.

There were hopes that, once France had a club in Super League, their national side would be strong enough to provide a genuine challenge. Recent scorelines show that not to be the case.

So at Headingley tonight, the game tries a different tack, with England for the first time facing a side drawn from the best Australian and New Zealand players in Super League, carrying the title of Exiles.

As so often in rugby league, the superficially radical is actually more of a case of going back to the future. The concept of Exiles is derived from Other Nationalities – the all-encompassing "best of the rest" team that had several bursts of activity, but was at its strongest in the 1950s; Brian Bevan, for instance, played virtually all his representative rugby for Other Nationalities.

"Even now, when you come over here, you more or less rule yourself out of representative football," says Exiles – and former Leeds – coach, Brian McClennan. "That's why the players are so grateful for this opportunity. It doesn't count as a Test, but we're preparing for it as if it was."

Despite the gimmick of fans voting for who they would like to see in the Exiles side, McClennan has got essentially the side he wanted for tonight's inaugural fixture.

That means an abundance of experience in Tests and State of Origin, nobody more so than the Leeds hooker, Danny Buderus, who captained both NSW and Australia before relocating to Yorkshire.

"He has done it all and he's still excited by this," says McClennan. "But they all are. We're pretty proud of where we come from and we think we're pretty good at rugby league."

All of which is music to the ears of the England coach, Steve McNamara. "That's exactly the sort of challenge we want," he says. "I've absolutely no doubt that this can grow into our version of State of Origin. This should be the start of something very big."

The agenda at the Rugby League's headquarters is that the International Origin match should grow into an annual three-game series. To do that, however, it needs to establish instant credibility tonight.

Nobody wants a brawl, but if Buderus and his Leeds team-mate – and England captain – Jamie Peacock were to square up to each other at some stage, it would illustrate that it was all "fair dinkum". The same goes for the St Helens pair, James Graham and Tony Puletua. The "mate against mate" possibilities are endless, but you could sell tickets for that particular confrontation.

Unlike the Lancashire-Yorkshire games of the past, nobody wants to miss this one – but that is the fate of Huddersfield's Danny Brough.

His form made him an inevitable selection as England scrum-half, but his ankle ligament injury last Sunday has robbed the side of one of its main focuses of interest.

"But as one door closes, another opens for someone else," says Richie Myler, the Warrington half-back who is that someone else. "It's a great opportunity for me."

Still only 21, Myler has already had a roller-coaster career. After making a two-try debut against Wales and scoring three against France the following season, he seemed for a while to have hit the buffers at club level, when he was dropped for big matches, including a Challenge Cup final, by Warrington coach, Tony Smith.

"It was very disappointing, because nobody likes being left out of big games," he says. "But, as Tony said to me at the time, it can either make you a better player, or you can go the other way. I like to think that I've come out the other side of that."

Despite the setbacks of a serious knee injury and a fractured cheekbone, Myler has now firmly established himself. "He's much more mature now, as a player and as a person," says McNamara. "The experiences he has had, especially the disappointments, have enhanced him."

Tellingly, he is teamed-up tonight with another player who had his share of disappointments early in his career, in Kevin Sinfield. It is a measure of England's task, however, that the opposing pair of half-backs consists of the World Cup-winner, Thomas Leuluai, and arguably the form player in Super League this season, Rangi Chase.

Those are the sort of credentials that should guarantee the level of skill on display tonight. That on its own will not sell tickets, however. They have been a little slow to shift, encouraging the sponsors, CarPlan, to underwrite freezing the prices at the turnstiles at the same level as tickets bought in advance.

Whether the hoped-for 14,000 feel they have had their money's worth will depend on the intensity. So if, say, Adrian Morley, was to go toe-to-toe with one of his Warrington team-mates, the credibility battle would be half way to being won. Messrs Beetson and Cronin would concur.

The original

* State of Origin rugby league games began Down Under in 1980 with New South Wales traditionally taking on Queensland in a best-of-three series each year.

* Origin has elevated players like Wally Lewis and Mal Meninga to iconic status. It is the top-rated televised sporting event in Australia and attracted an Australian rugby league record crowd of 87,161 on neutral territory in Melbourne in 1994.

* Queensland have won the last five series and lead 1-0 in this year's games. The second match is in Sydney on Wednesday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner