One of the big advertising agencies in Newcastle upon Tyne used to have a sign on the wall of the design studio that proclaimed:
“Done is better than perfect”
While a number of their clients might not have agreed with the sentiment, anyone who has worked with designers will know they sometimes get hung up on searching for a design utopia rather than producing pretty pictures for their clients.
This ‘proverb’ comes to mind when thinking of the rather awkwardly named International Origin match. To the uninitiated, it’s a midseason game between the full England squad and the best southern hemisphere players in Super League. Think the Barbarians, but without the history.
Like many other concepts that the RFL are behind, it has many detractors and I could write a whole blog on what’s wrong with it. For the sake of brevity, the problems are: it’s contrived, it’s meaningless and it’s not the State of Origin. I’d also add that it’s one of the poorest names for a sporting event I’ve ever come across.
The French problem
For years rugby league in the northern hemisphere has tried to helped Great Britain (and now England) close the gap with Australia and, latterly, New Zealand. State of Origin has long been considered the main reason why the Aussies have destroyed us at international level for years. The standard players have to regularly achieve to be considered for selection and the intensity of the series is the perfect finishing school for top class players. We’ve never had anything to match it, so the hunt began to find a northern hemisphere alternative.
A War of the Roses was tried, but failed because of a lack of interest from the players which showed in the intensity of the on field product. This was followed up by a full international match between England and France, although that was given its cards because the French were atrocious.
The advent of Les Catalans in Super League has been a success at club level. However it hasn’t translated into international competitiveness, which had been the hope given what happen with New Zealand after the Warriors joined the NRL. In fact, given the new French coach isn’t very good at speaking French, they could be about to hit a new low in the forthcoming World Cup.
There is a better way
With a history of failures, and still no credible midseason opposition for England players to test themselves against, the Exiles concept was rolled out. As Thomas Edison once said,
“there’s a way to do it better – find it”.
On paper, it’s an excellent idea; if there’s no obvious credible opposition, invent one.
The English competition has always had some beautiful overseas players, many of whom have given up the chance to play rep footy to come north and the Exiles gives them another chance to step up.
Admittedly the current strength of the NRL means the number of top overseas players at the peak of their powers has reduced in Super League – there’s certainly no Mal Meninga in the comp this year. But the ‘over the hill’ or ‘never has been’ brigade of foreigners represents the best opposition for Team England at the moment. And they’re competitive too, having won two of the three games to date.
Have a look at some of the names on the team sheet this year Menzies, Puletua (one of my favourite players of the last 10 years), Waterhouse, Monaghan, Hohaia… these guys have played at the top level and are some of the best in Super League. It’s going to be a tough 80 minutes.
In World Cup year, the Origin match has taken on additional meaning for many players. England’s pack options look immense – imagine a pack of NRL players: James Graham, Scotty Moore, George Burgess, Sam Burgess, Chris Heighington and old boy Gareth Ellis… and if everyone is fit, only two of these are nailed on for the starting 13. In the half back line there’s Kevin Sinfield, Rangi Chase, Richie Myler, Rob Burrow in the current squad with Gareth Widdop to come – genuine competition at half back is something we haven’t had for 25 years.
With a week in camp at their Loughborough base and a competitive fixture against good opposition to come, there is a lot at stake for Team England. OK, there might not be any ‘away’ fans to generate a bear pit atmosphere, it might not be counted by the RLIF as a full international and no one really cares about trophy on offer.
But while Australia and New Zealand plunder the Pacific islands for players and France continue to punch below their weight at international level, there will continue to be only three top international teams. There is zero chance of a mid-season tour by Australia or New Zealand, so the Exiles is what we’re left with.
Is it the best concept in sport? No. But as the graphic designers of Newcastle will testify, done is better than perfect.