By Brian Lowe, Date: 20/6/18
Having touched down in Denver, CO, early in the week players from both England and New Zealand have had their initial practice sessions for Saturday’s Rugby League Football International Challenge.
Both teams went to extraordinary lengths to provide their squads with the best of player welfare measures on the long-haul flights to the mile-high city.
Players were flown over in business class so they could get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and maintain maximum flexibility all under the watchful eyes of their respective team doctors.
The unprecedented precautions were taken following concerns expressed by both the NRL and Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) about potential adverse side effects on the players’ health as a result of the lengthy flights, playing at altitude and then getting on another long-haul flight back to Australia and England, in some cases, just days before they would need to back up for their clubs in their respective competitions.
Both squads had practice sessions Tuesday in Denver as players started to acclimate to their unaccustomed surroundings high up in the picturesque Rocky Mountains.
The English squad members were put through their paces at the University of Denver’s soccer field, while the Kiwis had a session in the gym.
Despite ongoing questions from some quarters in the lead up to the game about its value to expanding rugby league internationally, the Kiwi players feel the Denver Test will be a meaningful step towards that goal.
“It means a lot,” said New Zealand’s Joseph Tapine. “Representing my family, my country and I just want to bring passion and want to play hard for my country and get a result.”
Herman Ese’ese says the move from the Brisbane Broncos to Newcastle has paid dividends in terms of his international playing career.
“When I got the phone call I was pretty speechless and excited at the same time,” he said. “This has always been a dream of mine since I was a kid and to get an opportunity to represent where I’m from, I’m just really grateful that I’m here.”
England had an early setback on arrival stateside with George Williams being scratched from the team because of a knee injury he picked up in a Super League match at the weekend.
That followed an earlier change to player personnel when Scott Taylor was drafted into the squad to cover for the injured George Burgess who likewise got a knock in an NRL game.
The New Zealand team is expected to be named late Wednesday or Thursday (US time) while England are due to name their team on Wednesday.