Your country needs you, Shaun

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Shaun Edwards' retirement leaves a big gap, particularly on the club scene. He was the ultimate professional and an example to every young player. I hope he is not lost to the game because he would make an excellent coach.

He was fortunate to play in a great Wigan team but his contribution to their success was enormous. His main attributes were his organisational skills, his kicking - his short-kicking game was one of the best I've seen - and his support play.

All that was backed by his enthusiasm and single-mindedness. Shaun wasn't exactly on the welcoming committee when I first moved to league, but you have to earn your acceptance the hard way in league. I eventually got on well with him. We were room-mates on a couple of Great Britain tours and I had great respect for him as an opponent and international team-mate.

And I mean it when I say I hope he stays in the game, because we could do with a few more home-bred coaches. Australians seem to be occupying most of the top club jobs and while that will help raise standards, the game needs the British input that someone of Shaun's influence can provide.

But, generally speaking, I think our rugby league is in very good shape, and it is important it stays that way for World Cup year and the battles with Australia and New Zealand. Although it seems sacrilege from a former Welsh captain, I think we've made a mistake in not playing as Great Britain. I know that the Welsh, Scots and Irish have a right to their own representation, but for this one time I would prefer to see a GB team in action, because we must try to narrow that gap between us and our rivals from down under.

But there's much to enjoy before the World Cup because Super League is shaping up promisingly. I'm still not convinced about the summer season, but I am looking forward to it. During the past couple of months or so, I've been alternating between commenting for BBC Grandstand on the Six Nations on one Saturday and on the rugby league Challenge Cup on the other. Hopping between codes keeps you on your toes but, just as I did when I was playing, I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences.

As I have said on many occasions, it is difficult to compare the two codes because they are different games, but I must say the quality of rugby I've seen in league recently has been very, very high. I've always been a big fan of the att- itude and application of league players, and the only comparison I would make is that union players can still learn a lot about professionalism from their league counterparts.

Although the Super League season is still in its early days, the Challenge Cup has produced some terrific games and what impresses me is that the teams seem to be far more on an equal footing than in previous seasons. I know that Bradford Bulls look to be in dominant mood, but a few sides haven't reached their full potential yet.

There are a few people worried about the number of southern-hemisphere players over here but we do need their presence to raise the standards of the game. Importing average players will do nothing for us, but if we bring the best over, our younger players are bound to be inspired.

The Challenge Cup final at Murrayfield in 13 days' time promises to be a superb game. Bradford are carrying all before them this year. They are in fantastic condition; all big lads and toned up to perfection. Their opponents, Leeds, have yet to find anything like their true form and their new coach, Dean Lance, is getting some stick. But Iestyn Harris has been out of action, as have a few others, and there's nothing like a final to galvanise a team.

On a personal note, I would like rugby league to give more priority to developing their heartlands rather than seeking to expand. Hull have proved what can happen when the old embers are encouraged to glow again. I trust they can overcome their crowd problems and have the sort of season that will re-establish the Humber as a breeding ground of players. The same thing can happen in Cumbria. If only we could plant a Super League team up there, the players that untapped area produces wouldn't have to leave, and I am convinced it could become a productive base for a game that still has so much to offer the British sporting scene.

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