This summer’s international window gives players the chance to put their case for selection at next autumn’s World Cup.
Dedicating a weekend to internationals in the middle of the season is a real boost for international competition, and it needs to be capitalised upon. If nations could fit in two mid-season tests as well as their autumn programme, we will have a more persistent international game.
It is interesting that the England and Exiles game has expanded to a two-game series, and there is now scope for other battles to be played alongside it, such as the clash between Wales and France.
The England Knights selection looks an exciting one, and shows that there is an increasing pool of international standard players now available to pick from in Super League.
The main argument you find when comparing rugby league to rugby union, is that the 15-man code has a far superior international programme, both in quality and attendances. International rugby union is virtually played all year round, taking in the Six Nations, summer internationals and the autumn test series.
The return of the World Cup adds a pinnacle to the international calendar, and there now needs to be a consistent programme that is scheduled years in advance, much like in other sports. The Four Nations is relatively well established, and a two-tiered European Cup which has games played in mid-season and the autumn each season might well lead to the development of an exposed international programme.
The main challenge is creating the pathway for local players to play for their national team. It is not a success if teams are made up of artificial players, who are able to qualify for a particular nation through loose criteria, only for them to switch to another nation when they are good enough.
Wales, in seven years, has gone from having zero professional clubs, to having two in the shape of North Wales Crusaders and South Wales Scorpions, and despite the failed Super League franchise, there is now lots of Welsh presence within the top flight and a promising partnership with Wigan.
With the French domestic league thriving, added presence in the south of England, what rugby league needs now is a stronger domestic presence in Ireland and Scotland, to help encourage their player pathway.
A regular competition between Wales, France, Ireland and Scotland, perhaps featuring England Knights, needs to become a permanent fixture of the international calendar, alongside the World Cup and its qualifiers.
The seeds have been planted – the challenge now, is to increase the player pool available, so that games such as this one, get the coverage and recognition that they deserve.