Rugby League: Truth is too hard to bear for Britain

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The Independent Online
Australia's latest series victory against Great Britain has served as a sobering reminder that Super League's global pretensions ring hollow. Rugby league, says Dave Hadfield, now has to bridge a yawning credibility gap here.

The most disturbing aspect of the Test series against Australia which finished on Sunday is not that Great Britain lost but that so many people believe there must have been something fishy about the one match they won.

If I had a quid for everyone - usually, but not always, from outside the game - who told me during the week between the second and third Tests that Britain's victory at Old Trafford was a fix, I would have a tidy little stake for a few side-bets of my own.

There is always this whisper whenever a series goes into its final Test conveniently poised at one-all, as has happened every time since 1988.

As befits an organisation born of conspiracy, there is also a faint whiff of corporate collusion about Super League, a feeling that events might just be contrived for the greater good.

And then there is the disparity between Australia's displays in the second and third Tests. That no doubt convinced a few waverers that there was indeed something amiss. How on earth could Great Britain have beaten this lot without some sinister intervention?

Well, I refer you to the words of the Australian captain, Laurie Daley. "Absolute garbage," he said. "There's no way in the world we went out at Old Trafford to lose. We just weren't good enough to win on the day."

Apart from the fact that Daley is a natural straight-shooter, there is proof that this is the truth. He and his team had a week off planned if they had won at Old Trafford and sealed the series; and there is no force in the world that could persuade a group of Australian sportsmen to trade in a week on the grog for a week of hard training.

I rest my case. But what does it say about the credibility of the game that a sizeable minority of people could think it possible that the match could have been thrown? Nothing very flattering, I fear.

And, of course, credibility is the name of the game whenever we assess the latest round of damage done by the Australians. They have inflicted more pain this year than most, trouncing British teams in the World Club Championship and then defeating the national side in a Test series for the 12th time in a row.

It is too familiar a scenario to induce any surprise, but in the aftermath of Old Trafford there were those who allowed themselves to dream of the galvanising effect that finally beating them would have.

Yes, it would have been great fun. But it would have obscured a great many things that are wrong: the steepest decline in the game in this country came immediately after the 1970 Ashes victory - our last - in Australia.

We could have lost sight of the fact that in a game supposedly full-time professional at its highest level, most of its clubs are run with shambolic amateurism and incompetence. We would have been liable to forget that the sport's central administration cannot devise a strategy and stick to it for more than five minutes.

Instead, the way that our best players - the ones who have made the most of themselves despite the woefully uneven competition in which they play - were overrun in the first half at Elland Road stands as an eloquent reminder of how much there is to do.

After the debacle of Great Britain's tour to the South Pacific last year, there were plenty of things about our approach to international rugby that needed to be said. Strangely, the report from the tour manager, Phil Lowe, that should have said them never appeared.

This time, the conclusions should be brought out into the open and a commitment made to following them through. For a start, as the League's chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, has already conceded, the Great Britain squad needs to become something more permanent than the loose agglomeration of coaches and players which gets together only when foreign opposition is appearing over the horizon.

The Great Britain coach, Andy Goodway, also wants to introduce an intermediate level of competition for aspiring international players - a national B team that could play developing league countries.

Of course, this all costs money and the catastrophic way in which the News Ltd hand-out was doled out to clubs so expert at wasting it has ensured that there is nothing in any central pot with which to finance it.

The lesson of the WCC and this Test series has been that international competition - even one-sided international competition - attracts coverage in areas that are not normally saturated in rugby league.

But Super League's "global vision" remains an unproven boast. Next year is supposed to feature a World Cup. More worrying than the usual concern about how Britain will perform are hints that the competition may not even take place.