International rugby league coming to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Rugby League players Chris Hill and Sam Tomkins ahead of the first rugby league international being

Rugby League players Chris Hill and Sam Tomkins ahead of the first rugby league international being staged at the Olympic Stadium - Credit: Archant

“Anyone who doesn’t watch rugby league is not a real person.”

Sam Tomkins representing England Picture: PA/Joe Giddens

Sam Tomkins representing England Picture: PA/Joe Giddens - Credit: Empics Sports Photography Ltd.

That’s according to Australian advertising mogul John Singleton anyway.

Faster than rugby union and played with just 13 players, rugby league in this country is mainly restricted to the north.

Although third-tier clubs have sprung up in Oxford, Gloucester and Hemel Hempstead in recent years, the majority of Super League clubs are based in the so-called M62-corridor between Liverpool and Hull.

However Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will welcome some of the world’s finest players on November 7, with the Olympic Stadium set to host its first-ever rugby league international.

Former rugby league star Sam Burgess Picture: PA/David Davies

Former rugby league star Sam Burgess Picture: PA/David Davies - Credit: PA WIRE

England will face New Zealand – currently ranked number one in the world – in the second of a three-test series and Wigan-bound fullback Sam Tomkins is delighted the sport has reached the iconic stadium.

The 26-year-old England intonational has spent the last two seasons down under with the New Zealand Warriors and insists it would mean a lot to be picked for the game.

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“I’d love to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s a very special stadium.

“When you look at what’s happened here over recent months, the Olympics, the Rugby World Cup – it’s a stadium that deserves rugby league to be here.

Sam Burgess playing for England's rugby league side Picture: PA/Lynne Cameron

Sam Burgess playing for England's rugby league side Picture: PA/Lynne Cameron - Credit: PA ARCHIVE IMAGES

“We’ve got a great product in rugby league and people around this area that don’t get to see a great deal of it can come down and watch.

“The Olympics were something that everyone could get into no matter what, and I’ve seen people win gold medals in this stadium we’re going to play in – it’s brilliant.

“It should be inspiring to us to play in the same arena that those guys have won Olympic medals in.”

The stadium has already proved its worth as a rugby venue for the 15-man code’s World Cup, with four pool games and an upcoming bronze medal final.

Although England’s campaign has made headlines for all the wrong reasons, much has been made of the transformation of ex-rugby league star Sam Burgess into rugby union international.

While some question marks were raised about his inclusion in the tournament, Tomkins – who once played rugby union for the Barbarians – believes his former teammate will go down as one of the greats.

“Sam’s a superstar and the things he’s done in rugby league completely warrant him to go into rugby union and set himself up,” he added.

“Critics have asked whether he should be playing international rugby union so soon, but anyone that has played against him or alongside him, or that knows anything about rugby really, would have to say that a talent as good as him should be playing international rugby union or league.

“He’s a genuinely nice guy and always striving for success and those are the type of hard-working people you want in the international set-up.

“I think Sam could go onto to become one of the best rugby union players in the world.”

Also hoping to represent his country at the Olympic Stadium is Warrington Wolves prop Chris Hill.

The 27-year-old recently abseiled down the ArcelorMittal Orbit – begrudgingly, after losing a coin toss with Tomkins – but is much more excited about returning to the park on the ground.

“It’s great for the sport to be playing down here and we’re all looking forward to it,” he said.

“We’re all taking inspiration from the likes of Greg Rutherford, Jessia Ennis-Hill and Mo Farrah and we want to recreate that atmosphere they built up here.

“They’ve competed against the best and that’s what we’re going to be doing.

“New Zealand are number one in the world at the moment and we want to be competing against the best and beating the best.”

And although he let 6ft 3in Hill take the plunge, Tomkins admits he would like to return and try the UK’s highest freefall abseil for himself.

“I would have done, but there was only time for one of us,” he said.

“Hilly wasn’t too happy about doing it but I was pretty happy to see the big fellow win.

“It’s a brilliant place, the views are absolutely exceptional so I’d definitely love to come back and give it a go.”

For more information or to buy tickets visit rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk/international.

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