First published in Rugby League World, Issue 391 (Nov 2013)
When Kevin Sinfield leads England out at Millennium Stadium on October 26, he will launch what we all hope will be five weeks of Rugby League excellence that takes the sport to a new level in this country.
That is the potential that the 2013 World Cup holds – and after over four years of planning and preparation, let’s hope that it delivers.
The signs are good. Reports of ticket sales – while frustratingly vague in most cases – are much more encouraging than they were a couple of months ago, not least for that crucial opening double header in Cardiff.
Success there – both in terms of an attendance and in England’s performance against Australia – will set the tournament on its way.
Media coverage has already been promising, with England’s squad announcement even gracing the front page of big hitters The Mirror, thanks to the terrific human interest story that is the selection of three Burgess brothers.
The players themselves – from each of the 14 nations – are probably just about the only thing we can rely on, given their consistency in producing sporting action of the very highest quality.
So throw in a bit of luck with the weather – no repeat of the washouts of 2000 please – and some aggressive promotion of the outstanding product that we have, and this really could be the tournament that we’re all dreaming about.
Each of us can play their part as well, something that Robbie Hunter-Paul alludes to in his World Cup column this month.
For over a month this autumn we will each have the chance to introduce newcomers to Rugby League, whether it be getting them to tune into England-Australia on the BBC on a Saturday afternoon, showing them Papua New Guinea-Samoa on Premier Sports on a Monday evening, or taking them to Scotland versus USA at Salford that Thursday.
Tell your mates, tell your work colleagues, tell your family members.
Top level Rugby League will be on many people’s doorsteps between now and the end of November, and it could be some time before we get to see match-ups like Ireland-Fiji and Scotland-USA on these shores again.
So, where possible, take up the tournament’s slogan “Be There” and help to make this World Cup the roaring success that could result in a huge knock-on effect for Rugby League in this country.
We’ll see you all there.
September provided me personally with one of those afternoons that we all follow Rugby League for, at the Championship One play-off final at Leigh.
I first got taken to watch Rochdale Hornets as a five year old on the terraces of the old Athletic Grounds, and though work has limited my ability to see them play regularly in recent years, still follow the club closely and I am a member of their innovative co-operative ownership scheme.
It’s been three decades with virtually no success, bar promotion to the old Division One in 1990 and a Lancashire Cup final appearance the following year – the last time Hornets had been in a final of any sort, the longest barren spell in the professional game.
But that pales into insignificance in comparison to the man who took me to that first game, my dad Peter, who had clocked up 61 fruitless years watching the club – in fact, their last most recent piece of silverware had been the Challenge Cup in 1922.
Working on the Premier Sports team meant that I didn’t get to sit with him during the game – but seeing what it meant to him, and several other Rochdale supporters of a similar age, at the end of the match is something I won’t forget.
It showed how much Rugby League matters to people, even two divisions below – and a world away in reality – from the bright lights of Super League.
And long may that continue.