And so the Rugby League World Cup begins! Catching the train from Reading it was clear that a fair few of the people getting on the train were wearing Rugby Union tops, more than I might have expected. As the day progressed it was going to be interesting to gauge how many were going to watch the games how many for the beer and a day out in Cardiff. With the abolition of the Great Britain team we have England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales team heading into the fray. It’s going to be interesting to see how many broad Northern accents turn up in each of those countries as well as how many Southern Hemisphere tones; ancestry or choice of a place to live?
The England team headed into the openers facing Australia a country used to dominating the World Cup, they arrived in the country with a plethora of stars! Billy Slater at fullback is probably considered the best in the world as far as rugby league is concerned; he has a lot to prove having had a bit of a nightmare in the last final in 2008 aiding the Kiwis to go on and lift the cup. Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, Greg Inglis, Sam Thaiday and Johnathan Thurston to name a few are all at the top of their game playing in the NRL. England face a team determined to get their hands on ‘their’ cup again, it’s clear they aren’t here for a holiday!
England’s preparation to face these giants of rugby league had been less than perfect, a controversial loss to Italy, followed by the expulsion of the maverick Gareth Hock from the squads after a rumoured drinking session. For me I can’t understand Hock’s inclusion in the first place, a man banned from the game for 2 years for drug offences he can be a liability both on and off the field. As the week progressed it became plain there were to be further consequences as James Graham one of the best props in the world and Michael Mcillorum a superb Wigan back were left off the team sheet for the opening game. Not the best of weeks before such a big game, as proven by the pre game press conference where the journalists focussed on the whole Hock affair saw Steve McNamara walk out of the press conference. England have 3 brothers in their squad, the Burgess boys. Sam and twins George and Tom with older brother Luke left at home. Sam is well known to England fans the twins not so much; in fact Tom was in the line up in spite of only 9 appearances for the brothers’ NRL club The South Sydney Rabbitohs in the 2013 season.
I arrived in Cardiff with plenty of time having no idea what the opening ceremony would bring; and I can honestly say having watched it I still have no idea! We started with some men singing a few rock type songs, according to Jack Endley sitting next to me all the way from Plymouth; it was James Cordon and his mates from the pub! Gethin Jenkins interviewed Mike Stevenson, known to most as a Sky commentator, but who was in fact in the team who last won the World Cup for this country in 1972. Next were what appeared to be some security guards singing Delilah, very well, but who were they? Dancers did their thing and some very big balloons, one for each country taking place were paraded, a very big part of me wanted one to fly off! Gareth Thomas suddenly appeared from nowhere to score a ‘try’ between the posts; certainly one of Wales best rugby union players in his time he didn’t really make his mark in league, nice touch though.
Next up Martin Offiah; a true legend of rugby league turned up not in rugby boots but with sparkly dancing shoes and a Strictly dancer on his arm along with Gethin Jand partner to perform a tango but not for long! A lady playing a harp appeared next, with another performer hanging from a world type balloon, spinning round; More women appeared playing classical music, again, very lovely, but not a clue who they were! All of this was very well done but I’m not so sure it was very rugby league.
More about my day and the opening weekend to follow! Including a snap shot of current cup holders – New Zealand with a name known to us all amongst the team!