For almost 100 years, the Great Britain and Irish Lions were the pinnacle of representative rugby league.

From its first test vs New Zealand in 1908, Britain and Ireland’s most gifted players were selected to participate in a series of international tournaments and tests, usually contested with southern hemisphere giants New Zealand and Australia.

Despite lifting three Rugby League World Cups, along with a number of other tournaments and tests, the Great Britain concept was retired in 2007 to help grow the respective Irish, Scottish and Welsh national sides.

Although the motive behind the decision was commendable, it was still controversial nonetheless. At that time, British rugby league was booming; The Lions had just completed a three-nil whitewash of the mighty All Blacks during their 2007 tour and looked set to take the international stage by storm.

Nevertheless, the British brand was temporarily scrapped as the other home nations were prioritised.

However, after a proposed tour down under in 2015 collapsed, Great Britain have finally returned to the world stage, following a 12-year hiatus.

After kick-starting their tour to New Zealand and Papua New Guinea last month, Wayne Bennett’s men have suffered back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Kiwis and Tonga.

And it’s this run that has sparked mass controversy amongst supporters, with many sharing the view that the break hasn’t allowed Irish, Scottish and Welsh rugby league to progress to the desired levels.

There’s a distinct lack of non-English representation within the current Great Britain squad; Scotland’s Lachlan Coote and Ireland’s Joe Philbin are the only two inclusions from the other home nations, whilst Australian half-backs Blake Austin and Jackson Hastings qualified for selection through their respective English ancestries.

Head coach Bennett has been strongly accused of having a reluctance against selecting non-English players as a result; Welsh internationals Regan Grace and Morgan Knowles are two notable absentees from the squad after both enjoyed a magnificent 2019 with the current Betfred Super League champions, St Helens.

Bennett’s decision to exclude the prolific Grace came under fire again last week as winger Ryan Hall dislocated his knee during last week's meeting with the All Blacks, leaving Jermaine McGillvary as the squad’s only fit winger, prior to Ash Handley’s late call-up. Had Bennett included Grace, he would have avoided any last minute selection headaches ahead of this weekend’s test in Christchurch. 

While the decision to enter major tournaments as four separate home nations is understandable, some urgent improvements are needed to be made if the Great Britain and Irish Lions touring outfit is to become a successful one. For starters, it is imperative that, going forward, the squad is made up of the most elite British and Irish players available, otherwise, it’s just the English rugby league side playing under an alternative banner.

The Great Britain and Irish Lions play New Zealand on Saturday 9th November, before travelling to Port Moresby to take on Papua New Guinea in the tour’s final test on Saturday 16th November.