England’s Rugby Football League (RFL) deplored on Wednesday the timing of next week’s centenary Test in Sydney between Australia and New Zealand, but stopped short of backing Super League clubs who are refusing to release players for the match.
New Zealand have named Leeds full-back Brent Webb and Wigan scrum-half Thomas Leulai in their side for the Test in Sydney next Friday.
But the two English Super League clubs want to keep hold of their players because the international clashes with the fifth round of the Challenge Cup.
RFL chief executive Nigel Wood said the scheduling of the match threatened the viability of Test rugby league.
“If international competition is to continue to be regarded as the pinnacle of the sport, such contests should not ask players to play when they can only arrive a very short time before the match,” he said in a statement. “The Rugby League International Federation’s [RLIF] rule states that international selections should take priority over domestic playing requirements. The RFL fully supports that principle. However, in respect of mid-season internationals, we clearly understand the legitimate concerns of our clubs when travel between hemispheres places an unreasonable demand on players. Also, in this case the international in question falls within an extremely important period for the clubs. This includes the showcase engage Super League Millennium Magic event which places additional heavy demands on players and the Carnegie Challenge Cup fifth round, which is a sudden death fixture in a hugely important competition.”
“We have made clear representations to the New Zealand Rugby League in relation to these issues,” he said. “The RFL is of the view that there is an established and agreed protocol in international, inter-hemisphere Rugby League that teams are only asked to play with a minimum of a week’s rest after travel and therefore we believe the same conditions should apply to individual players. The RFL will be writing to the RLIF asking them to reflect on this difficult situation, but we emphasize we will be abiding by the current rules.”