England's Australia-based players sign statement fully backing Denver game as power battle with NRL intensifies
ENGLAND head coach Wayne Bennett and his NRL-based stars have all signed off a statement giving their 'absolute support' for the Test versus New Zealand in Denver, Colorado - in light of speculation the NRL will try and veto it this week.
England are due to face the Kiwis in the United States on Saturday June 23 - the same weekend as State of Origin II.
However, it is understood the NRL, its clubs and its player association are on the verge of signing off a joint-letter indicating they will not support the match.
Potentially,that would prevent the release of players such as South Sydney star Sam Burgess and St George-Illawarra dup James Graham and Gareth Widdop as well as almost the entire New Zealand side.
There are suggestions that the NRL will argue there are “safety concerns” for players playing at altitude in Denver - which have been shot down by Burgess and others in the Australian press.
On the back of that, this morning, an official statement was made by England Rugby League on behalf of and ‘signed’ by Bennett and NRL-based England players Burgess, Graham and Widdop plus Souths’ Tom and George Burgess, Newcastle Knights’ Chris Heighington and Canberra Raiders duo Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead.
It read: “We would like to place on record our absolute support for the upcoming Rugby League International game between England and New Zealand, scheduled to be played in Denver in June.
“We believe that the 2017 Rugby League World Cup in Australia demonstrated the value of the international game to our sport.
“We all collectively said at the time that it was important we took the opportunity to try and grow the game globally and believe that this mid-season window provides the perfect opportunity for the sport to showcase itself to a new public in North America.
“Whilst we understand that there have been some concerns regarding player welfare, the England Chief Medical Officer, Dr Chris Brookes, has made it clear to us that he has no additional concerns with this game being played in Denver and the insurance that has now been put in place is more comprehensive than any other in the history of International Rugby League.
“We have spoken with our English based teammates who have received the full support of their Super League clubs and we are all in agreement that it is important that this game takes place.
“We are looking forward to meeting up as a squad in June and, if selected, walking out in Denver to take on New Zealand.”
The power-battle looks set to continue and it seems England and their players, quite rightly, are ready to stand firm on their plans.