Former Great Britain coach Tony Smith pleased to see the return of the Lions and Kangaroos tours

The Rugby League International Federation announced in Sydney on Tuesday that the Great Britain team was the reform and tour the southern hemisphere in 2019

Tuesday 09 May 2017 17:23
The Great Britain and Irish Lions on a tour to Australia in 2002
The Great Britain and Irish Lions on a tour to Australia in 2002

Tony Smith, the last Great Britain coach, has welcomed the return of the Lions and Kangaroos tours.

The re-formation of the Great Britain team was the main feature of a four-year calendar outlined at a meeting of the Rugby League International Federation in Sydney on Tuesday.

This year's World Cup will be followed by a New Zealand tour to Europe in 2018, a Great Britain and Ireland Lions tour to the southern hemisphere in 2019 and a Kangaroos tour to Europe in 2020.

The Great Britain team was disbanded in 2007 after a 3-0 series whitewash of New Zealand, ahead of the 2008 World Cup, with England taking their place in the Four Nations Series which now appears to have been discarded.

Smith, who remained in position at the time of the switch before eventually stepping down at the end of 2009 to concentrate on his full-time job with Warrington, accepted the decision at the time but believes there is a place for both England and Great Britain in the international calendar.

The Great Britain team was disbanded in 2007

"I think the decision had more to do with funding," Smith said. "Sport England was a big provider of a lot of financial assistance in the sport at that point in time.

"I think there's still a place for both. I'm a bit of a traditionalist and, while you've got to move with the times, I was brought up on the Great Britain tours. For the romantic side of things, I'd like Great Britain to return."

The history of the Lions goes back to 1908 with an incoming tour by New Zealand, while the first Great Britain tour Down Under took place two years later.

Castleford coach Daryl Powell welcomed the announcement

The last Lions tour was in 1996 while the Kangaroos last toured the UK in 2003.

The announcement follows a growing clamour to bring back the Lions and was welcomed by Castleford coach Daryl Powell, who won 27 Great Britain caps from 1989-96.

"It's just the tradition of it, isn't it, the tours that go back so many years and the history that is associated with Great Britain tours and the camaraderie that it brings together," Powell said.

"You see it so strong in rugby union and it should still be a part of the rugby league calendar. I think it's missing and it's been badly missed, I'd love to see it brought back."

England took Great Britain's place in the Four Nations Series

The four-year calendar also includes an Emerging Nations Championship in 2018 leading up the 2021 World Cup which will be hosted by the Rugby Football League in the UK.

The RLIF board announced that World Cup qualification will be concluded two years in advance, with the line-up for 2021 to be completed by December 2019.

The international governing body also pledged to support the development of tier-two nations, those outside the big three, by working with continental federations to strengthen existing regional competitions in Europe, Asia Pacific, the Americas and Middle East/Africa.

A dedicated mid-season international weekend will be created, giving nations an opportunity to build on the success of this year's Pacific Test Series in Sydney.

The Rugby League International Federation announced their four-year plan on Tuesday

The RLIF is also committed to putting together a business plan for international nines, with the potential for a World Cup for men and women in 2019 and for both youth and women's nines to become a part of the Commonwealth Games Festival in 2018.

RFL chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer said: "The announcement made today by the RLIF is incredibly exciting for rugby league fans in England.

"It is great news that touring teams from New Zealand and Australia will visit these shores over the next three years and that there is the opportunity for a Lions tour to the southern hemisphere in 2019.

"The RLIF have provided a good framework for us to begin planning an exciting four years of international rugby league that will culminate with a World Cup here in England in 2021. We will now sit down with our partners over the coming months to finalise these plans."

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