WE all need a break from routine - get away, do something different or maybe watch some good mates try to grab the bragging rights for the rest of the season.
Rugby league supporters can do just that this weekend with the first of the England v Exiles games.
Launched last season the games see England facing a team drawn from the many players from across the world who ply their trade in this country.
It’s great that the overseas stars are being recognised but more important it gives the England international squad and their coach Steve McNamara a real mid-season test.
The Exiles matches – at St Helens on Saturday and at Huddersfield on Wednesday 4 July – have replaced the game against the French which had become an embarrassing walkover.
There’s no fears about a lack of intensity – players from the same club are on different sides and ‘mate against mate’ is a great motivation. The Exiles are out to win as they showed with a 16-12 victory in last season’s inaugural game.
The Exiles clashes mirror the State of Origin series in Australia. That sees the best players from Queensland and New South Wales contest a three-match series. They are some of the biggest games of the season down under and are a major factor in developing players for the international team.
With a World Cup coming up in the UK next year the Exiles games are a step towards raising the international profile of Rugby League because there’s a lot of catching up to do.
One thing you can’t deny is that Rugby Union do international rugby well. You have to admire the marketing set up that can sell out games that often combine little more than honest effort with long periods of players standing around while the referee decides who gets the next penalty.
Well good luck to the Union chaps – but League will offer an international dimension if it can become truly competitive and not just Aussies against the rest - but the Aussies usually win (unless New Zealand have a good day).
Sheffield Eagles boss Mark Aston won’t be putting his feet up this weekend. The Eagles face Hunslet in the Northern Rail Cup quarter finals at Don Valley on Friday night then he’s doing his part-time job when Ireland face England Knights before the Exiles game.
At the start of the season the prospect of the Rail Cup (a sort of Johnstone’s Paint Trophy for clubs outside the Super League) group games seemed a bit like watching … well paint dry. Now with a final only two games away the competition has a new gloss – although the final is in Blackpool.
It’s a good chance to forget a damp and dismal evening at Leigh which saw the Eagles go down 40-12. That gave Centurions a league double. As one Leigh journalist commented: “I suppose it’s the usual plan, we (Leigh) win in the league but Sheffield come back in the play-offs and win.” We can only hope.