Rugby league needs a strong international game. Not just the RFL. Not just the GB team. But Hull FC and all of rugby league.

The main reason simply being that the survival of the game as a serious sport depends upon it. With the increasingly commercial environment in which sports operate being dominated by association football, it is vital in order to keep the public's focus on our game.

The popularity of rugby union football within the social consciousness has been ensured due to its various international tournaments and tours. Those who do not follow either rugby code, or cannot tell the two apart, would still consider themselves to be supporters of England or Wales etc. as well as the (RU) British and Irish Lions.

Clubs appeal to their supporters but national sides appeal to nations.

This international appeal, combined with the advent of professionalism, has seen rugby union in England expand its club game. Despite rugby league's traditional dominance at this level the two now see roughly equal average attendance figures.

With increased budgets, increased geographical spread, and greater opportunities to represent your country in front of large crowds and against the best players in the world, the other code is now presenting itself as an attractive option to players. Without also taking advantage of what international football offers, both to players and commercially, rugby league risks falling behind. And in a market dominated by association football this is a risk no sport can afford to take.

In recent years the RFL have put in place structures which are seeing new teams and new interest in all areas of the country. This growth has created a great foundation for the future and over time should see it succeed where it has previously failed. But within this framework the national team can offer help in generating the public interest that will bring players and spectators to these teams. A public of whom most would otherwise have been ignorant of their existence. The coverage that a national team receives in areas where the game is new allows those local clubs to take advantage of this interest to promote themselves.

While everyone knows that England recently won the rugby union world cup, only the fans of the game know that Great Britain has won the rugby league world cup, and on several occasions. The Super League is a great competition. It is now seeing over 65,000 spectators selling out its Grand Final and making it one of the most popular sporting events in the country. But many more still remember a single game of rugby union football played a few years ago on the other side of the world than could name the participants at last years championship decider.

It is not just the profile of the game and public interest that requires a representative programme though. The clubs and domestic competitions will gain also. The experience players will gain by playing both with and against the best in world will benefit them. This is something they then bring to the league in the way they play for their clubs, as well as being something they can pass onto the players they train with. It raises standards and makes the game more attractive.

Super League itself is improved by including those who have played at the highest level; the standards of clubs are improved by having these players; and the standards of all teams improves by playing against them.

A strong club game benefits the international game and a strong international game benefits the club game. Without both the game is in danger of stagnating. Not because players do not wish to continually improve but because it would lack a benchmark against which to regularly test and prove themselves.

Do not get me wrong, I have more emotionally invested in the success of Hull FC, but that should be expected given that they play over thirty games per season spread out across a nine month period, rather than five games in as many weeks as do the (RL) Great Britain and Ireland Lions.

Unfortunately at the moment rugby league treats the international game as second-rate. Instead of making it the pinnacle of the sport it instead works to fit it around the domestic calendar. But in this way it brings a benefit, that the two levels of the game never clash. There is no need to make a choice between one or the other, they are not in conflict.

Although the inclusion of Les Catalans to Super League from 2006 is good for the game, both in the UK and especially France, GB still does not play regular internationals against its closest neighbour. The French offer the perfect chance for a mid-season international fixture without the need to travel to the other side of the world. They also enable the game to offer at least something in answer to the high profile Six Nations and summer rugby union Lions tours, but instead this opportunity is spurned.

Even the attempts at adding a tier of representative fixtures just below international level, by resurrecting 'Roses' clashes, was quickly abandoned after two years because clubs and officials were unwilling to do anything to support and develop the concept. Sadly rugby league seems all too willing to act in a short-sighted manner when it comes to putting clubs first. The fixture list being too crowded should not be an excuse for damaging the long term future of the game.

So until the time comes that an international game means that a round of league fixtures has to be played with certain teams denied their best players, only then can the question of club or country be asked. While the two are played at different times of the year there is no need for choice. Supporting one does not diminish or take away support for the other. Supporting only one aspect of the game though diminishes both.