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England and NZ set to play annual mid-season Test

New Zealand and England are set to play an annual mid-season Test on the same weekend as the stand-alone State of Origin match, beginning next season.

The Rugby League International Federation this month announced that the representative weekend that has been staged by the NRL in recent seasons, with no club matches, would be extended across the game and England coach Wayne Bennett revealed on Friday his team would play the Kiwis.

The May 5 ANZAC Test in Canberra was the end of mid-season Tests between Australia and New Zealand, and the annual City-Country clash has also been scrapped, with next year’s standalone weekend in the NRL to coincide with Origin II.

Bennett convinced England to play Samoa this year in the Pacific Test, which is set to continue next season, but he told a press conference in Auckland to promote the World Cup that England would play New Zealand from 2018.

“With the international calendar that has come out recently that will happen. We will be playing New Zealand in a mid-year Test now when the Origin match is on a Sunday, starting next year.”

“I think the mid-year Test will be a help to us because we play more games as an international team. Australia get a huge advantage through the Origin, New Zealand get an advantage because they have been playing the mid-year Tests against Australia on a regular basis and England have got to start to do more of that.”

New Zealand coach David Kidwell welcomed the possibility of the Kiwis, who may not have to cross the Tasman during the World Cup until the final if they win all their matches, hosting more Tests as they haven’t played at home since 2014.  

“I am really looking forward to the Kiwis playing some Tests here in New Zealand in front of their home fans and their friends and their families,” Kidwell said.

“We haven’t played a Test here since 2014 and we have got Samoa here on October 28 who are going to be a really formidable opponent and we are looking forward to some exciting football.”

The Kiwis also play Scotland in Christchurch on November 4 and Tonga in Hamilton on November 11, while they are hoping to feature in the quarter-final at Wellington on November 18 and semi-final in Auckland on November 25.

Bennett said he was pleased with the performance of the England team in the May 6 Test against Samoa at Campbelltown and is confident they will also be contenders to win the World Cup.

However, he believes the other nations will also be stronger because of the new international eligibility rules that enable the likes of Anthony Milford (Samoa), Jarryd Hayne (Fiji) or Solomone Kata (Tonga) to represent a tier two nation if not chosen by Australia, New Zealand or England.

“I think there are going to be some pretty strong teams with quality players in all of the teams and I think the new rules really help that as well.”

“If you are not picked for Australia, New Zealand or England you can go back and play for your country of Origin so I think that is really going to put a lot of quality players in the comp.

 “It will be a much stronger World Cup than 2008 was, England was quite a successful World Cup [in 2013] and this one will be the most successful World Cup. We believe that.

“I think when you get to the semi-final stage, if Australia, New Zealand and England are in the semi-finals, I think the other nation will be quite a challenge because they will have played in a quality competition and they will have to be pretty much at the top of their game as well to get to the semi-final stage.”

By Brad Walter | @BradWalterSport
Chief Correspondent, RLWC2017

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