By Steve Mascord
The Denver Test is one of those rugby league issues that is easy to become emotionally invested in and spend hours on social media arguing about.
With each passing day there is another story – most out of Australia – questioning the timing and venue of an international not involving the Kangaroos on a weekend that has no NRL games, with attempts to cast continuing doubt over whether players will be released.
If the distance won’t work as an excuse why players should not be released – England travelled further last year to play Samoa in Campbelltown – then it’s the altitude, even though presumably they don’t use a lever to lower the Sports Authority Stadium when the Broncos’ rival NFL teams visit.
Hell – pun intended – officials in Australia, who play friendlies in February heat and have a team in tropical north Queensland – have even cited the temperature in June as a major concern.
Your columnist could go on and on about this…….
But then I remembered that when I grew up watching rugby league, some of the best overseas players never represented their countries anywhere, let alone at Mile High Stadium.
When Malcolm Reilly and Tommy Bishop went Down Under, they mostly gave up their Great Britain shirts.
Brian Bevan, probably the greatest Australian winger of all time, never wore the green and gold because he lived in Warrington.
The first New Zealand player I was ever aware of, Henry Tatana, played his whole nine-Test international career before he crossed the Tasman to join Canterbury and then my favourite team as a kid, St George.
This list goes on. Dane and Kurt Sorensen, the Cronulla greats, had to listen to the Kiwis on the radio at their peak because they would not be released mid-season to play for their country.
We rugby league tree-hugging liberals use soccer as an example to support our arguments but Australian soccer’s famous Liverpool man, Craig Johnston, didn’t wear the green and gold either. Ever.
The stand-alone Origin weekend presents rugby league with a unique style of ‘FIFA window’ this year. It’s new territory. Of course there is going to be push-back from clubs and others protecting their own interests.
What we are experiencing are merely growing pains. If there was such a concentration of the world’s best in one competition in other sports, those domestic competitions would try it on, too.
In 2006, a New Zealand side with just three NRL players met a Great Britain line-up with one (Adrian Morley) in the middle of the season at Knowsley Road. At 46-14 to GB, it was a bit one-sided. But international rugby league didn’t spontaneously combust. They had to field teams and they did.
So while I could continue to wax sarcasm over the administrative soap opera surrounding the Denver Test on June 23, I’m going to try really hard to focus on how far we’ve come since the days of Bevan, Reilly, Bishop, Tatana and the Sorensens.
We’re playing a mid-season Test at a neutral venue, just like the big boys of international sport. It’s something to be happy, not bitter and twisted, about.
There’s a Test on at Sports Authority Field. New Zealand and England have agreed to field the best teams they can. Tickets have been sold.
I’m going. So are some of you. The stragglers will catch up with us when they’re ready.