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Men's Rugby League O'Loughin: England needs a mid-season game

ENGLAND captain Sean O’Loughlin urged the game’s authorities today to find a replacement for next year’s cancelled mid-season international against New Zealand in Denver.

England beat the Kiwis in the US city in June and it was hoped the venture, which proved a commercial success with a crowd of 19,320, could be repeated next year.

That will now not happen following confirmation New Zealand will instead host Tonga next summer.

O’Loughlin said: “When we played there last time, it was with the intention of going back next year.

“It was a great trip. I liked the concept, there was a decent crowd there and, game-wise, it was intense. They’re the sort of games we want to play in.

“Hopefully they come up with something else, a different idea we can have a go at. I think England need to have a mid-season game.”

Despite the positive feel created by the Denver Test, the prospect of staging the event again in 2019 and, as hoped, 2020 was always uncertain. The concept had met with only a lukewarm response from Australian clubs whose co-operation was essential for the releasing of players.

The National Rugby League in Australia has now worked with New Zealand Rugby League to present an alternative, which involves handing more fixtures to 2017 World Cup semi-finalists Tonga.

The Pacific islanders will play Australia at Mt Smart in Auckland on October 20 and then take on the Kiwis next June.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said: “This is a fantastic result for all fans of rugby league and the continued growth of the international game.”

His NZRL counterpart Greg Peters said: “The Kiwis playing Tonga on home soil is a Test Kiwis fans and the New Zealand Rugby League community have been looking forward to.

“International rugby league is the pinnacle of our game and these Tests are another step towards developing the international calendar.”

The International Rugby League Federation has also welcomed the Tonga fixtures but is concerned the cancellation of the Denver match could affect the 2025 World Cup, which is due to be held in North America.

RLIF chief executive Nigel Wood said: “The RLIF is excited to see these much-anticipated fixtures taking place. We hope they will pave the way for an even fuller international programme in 2019.

“Clearly, however, the mid-season game between Tonga and New Zealand removes the possibility of another game in Denver. The RLIF will now be seeking further discussions with the promoter to get a full understanding of any potential implications for their bid to host RLWC2025 in the United States.”

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