England have lifted World Cups in cricket, football, and rugby union but not as an independent nation in rugby league. It is something of a curious omission from its set of sporting accolades.
Great Britain were world champions of this code three times, winning the inaugural crown in 1954, then again in 1960 and 1972. Since 1995 onwards, however, England, Wales and Scotland have all competed at the Rugby League World Cup separately.
The Three Lions have made the final on three occasions before, first in 1975 and once more in 1995 when they were co-hosts prior to the launch of the Super League. England also got to the business end of the last Rugby League World Cup in 2017 when losing to Ashes rivals and the code’s dominant force Australia 6-0 Down Under in Brisbane.
A British side that contained mainly English players went on tour to the Southern Hemisphere in 2019 and came away whitewashed. Defeat for the Great Britain Lions to Tonga, New Zealand twice and Papua New Guinea is cause for concern.
Touring certainly wasn’t as successful or memorable as the rugby union counterparts, the British and Irish Lions, who drew their 2017 Test series against the All Blacks. Despite a Pacific trip to forget, England are 8.00 third-favourites in the rugby league betting on the World Cup in the outright market.
Home advantage must to some extent be factored into that price. There is a cautionary tale from the other code, however, still fresh in the mind of rugby fans. When the union World Cup of 2015 took place in England (and Wales), the Red Rose wilted under the pressure and made a humbling pool stage exit.
It is worth pointing out that the Three Lions don’t face anything like as difficult a group at the league tournament finals, though. Only Samoa, ranked four places below England in the world, may pose a problem.
The 2021 Rugby League World Cup Draw has been announced overnight at Buckingham Palace. Samoa has been drawn in Group A with England, France and Greece.— Toa Samoa (@RLSamoa) January 16, 2020
Samoa will face England in the opening match of the tournament, kicking off on October 23 next year in Newcastle, England. pic.twitter.com/mzpaSJXCTc
If the group stage is plain sailing on paper with the Three Lions also facing France and Greece, rated the eighth and eleventh best rugby league nations on the planet, what of the knockout phase? Provided they win Group A, then they face runners-up from the most open pool at the tournament.
Group D contains Tonga and Papua New Guinea, the very same nations who topped and tailed the dismal Great Britain Lions Tour. England may have to face them both, one at the quarter-final stage and the other in the semis.
The way that the Rugby League World Cup draw has panned out means the Three Lions can only face 11-time winners Australia or New Zealand in the final. This is the opposition, which picks its roster from the best players the NRL has to offer, that England come unstuck against time and again.
With the Kangaroos red-hot odds-on favourites to make it a dozen Rugby League World Cup wins, and New Zealand next best, the tournament hosts have it all to do, even if bolstered by home support they navigate a route to meeting either.