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Stunning U-turn set to be made over controversial England RL international

Tonga became the first-ever Pacific island touring nation when they took part in the three-match test series against England late last year, and there had been hopes that Samoa would become the second in 2024 before their shock withdrawal.

Serious About Rugby League can now confirm that the chances of Samoa touring England in autumn are not yet dead in the water, with talks from late 2023 set to begin again and hopefully advance quickly.

Samoa had been slated to tour England before their shock change of heart and commitment to play elsewhere, but talks did begin late last year to try and solve the situation.

It had been the RFL’s plan for Shaun Wane’s side to potentially avenge their World Cup semi-final defeat with Samoa having all but signed to play in a three-match test series in 2024, just as Tonga did last year.

However, that option was quickly removed as Samoa instead decided to commit to playing in the Pacific Shield as they did in 2023.

The Pacific Shield was created to try and promote more international competition and it had been understood that the four top nations down under, namely Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga, would rotate between which side missed out and instead headed to the northern hemisphere.

Of course, in 2023 Tonga were the side not to compete as Kristian Woolf’s side came over to face England, and it had been believed that they would then replace Samoa for 2024 with the Samoans in turn travelling to England.

That changed in early November of last year when Samoa announced their intent to remain down under in 2024, a huge blow to Shaun Wane’s side.

As is though Serious About Rugby League do understand that a Samoan tour isn’t off the table yet with clear intent being shown to secure international fixtures for England ahead of a proposed tour of Australia in 2025.

Woolf’s warning to England

The head coaches of Tonga and England

England v Tonga Test Series press conference, PK, Pressekonferenz Picture by Olly Hassell/ – 17/10/2023 – England v Tonga Test Series 2023 Press Conference – The Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens, England – Tongas Head Coach Kristian Woolf and Englands Head Coach Shaun Wane Copyright: x xSWpix.comxt/axPhotographyxHubxLtdxOllyxHassell/SWpix.comx SWP-2330-0001

The series between Tonga and England had been one of huge anticipation but ultimately one that lacked competition, Shaun Wane’s side dealing with Tonga with relative ease.

More interesting was the battle of words between head coaches Wane and Woolf and when news of Samoa’s withdrawal broke it had seemed that former St Helens boss Kristian Woolf had had the last laugh.

In the post-game presser from the third and final test at Headingley Woolf explained that he didn’t believe Samoa would face England, insisting instead that Tonga were in talks to play them.

Asked on how Samoa can learn from Tonga, he answered: “I’m not sure if they are (playing England).

“As I said, we’ve had discussions about playing them over there as well. I don’t think anyone should count that (Samoa’s tour of England) as a given.”

At the time the comments seemed to be a final dig in what had been an unfriendly series between the two coaches in terms of verbals, but days later he was proved right sending English rugby league fans into a frenzy over the potential lack of international games.

If England can’t land a Samoan series then the option of France will likely remain although another 64-0 win would do Shaun Wane’s side no favours ahead of a tour against the Aussies.

When do England Rugby League play next?

Like in 2023, England are likely to battle against France in a mid-season international as IMG and RL Commercial try to boost the appeal of international sport.

There will almost certainly be an England international mid-season but some would prefer to see England take on someone like the Combined Nations All Stars in the future as they did in 2022 as it was a more competitive outing for Shaun Wane’s side rather than the thrashing of France as Leeds Rhinos star Ash Handley notched a hat-trick against the French.

After that it is unknown but it seems increasingly likely that England and Samoa will do battle in an end of year series as was originally planned.

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