Rugby league needs to accept British team does not work

The British and Irish Lions catch the eye of all rugby union fans one summer every four years when all four nations pool their resources to take on the best from the Southern Hemisphere.

The Lions have enjoyed mixed success on their tours, famously beating Australia in 2013 before earning a battling draw against New Zealand last time out.

Their record against the Kiwis is not overly flattering, although they have been extremely impressive against Australia. South Africa had the edge on them before their 2021 tour, although the Lions were the leading contenders in the rugby union betting odds to defeat the Springboks.

Whatever the outcome of the series, the rugby displayed on the field is of the highest quality.

The challenge of facing the Lions brings out the best in their opponents, while the players from all four home nations aim to etch their names into the history books of the great men that have donned the red shirt.

Unfortunately that sentiment failed to transfer across codes into rugby league, so much so that the Great Britain team was disbanded for 12 years between 2007 and 2019. Great Britain did compete as one in the early days of the Rugby League World Cup, winning the crown three times.

However, as New Zealand and Australia made significant improvements on the field, their ability to compete with the Southern Hemisphere outfits waned.

The pool of players available to Great Britain was narrowed due to the lack of talent emerging from Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Brian Carney was a rare exception who starred in the early 00s in the Tri-Nations, hailing from Cork.

The majority of the players in the Great Britain squad were selected from England, and the leading Super League outfits Wigan, St Helens and Leeds.

There were brief moments of joy in the Tri-Nations competitions, such as a famous 24-12 win over Australia along with back-to-back triumphs over New Zealand in 2004.

However, the Lions under Brian Noble were then crushed by Australia 44-4 in the Grand Final.

The 2006 series ended in equally disappointing fashion as the Lions failed to qualify for the Grand Final, although they did record an impressive 23-12 win against Australia in Sydney for the first time since their tour of 1992.

The departure of Noble left Tony Smith to fill the void, and although the Lions defeated New Zealand 3-0 in a tour in 2007, the appetite to continue the four nations was not evident from both staff and players.

The Lions were disbanded in 2007, and have only returned to action in 2019. However, their tour of New Zealand was nothing short of disastrous. Wayne Bennett and his team lost all four of their games, including a humiliating 28-10 loss to Papua New Guinea at the climax of the tour.

The manner of those defeats has diminished the hope for further Lions action in the code.

The concept does not work as well in rugby league compared to union given the imbalance of talent across the four nations. Rugby league needs to accept this fact and move on for the good of the game.

Published by Ross William Gibson

24 year old sports journalist and SEO specialist.

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