League Express editor MARTYN SADLER wonders whether England’s performance today and in the remaining weeks of the World Cup can bring some joy in the midst of political turbulence.
It’s fair to say that, as a nation, we have been going to through a difficult period, both economically and politically.
I meet many people who look worried, whether about their mortgage payments or about the growing threat of the war in Ukraine running out of control and ending up in a nuclear armageddon, as the American President warned recently.
So it would be good to have something that could divert us, at least temporarily, from the serious issues that currently confront us.
Step forward the Rugby League World Cup!
I’m hoping that Shaun Wane’s men can make us feel as cheerful as he looks in the photograph above.
I have been disappointed by the general lack of coverage the World Cup, which starts today when England play Samoa at Newcastle’s St James’ Park, has received from the mainstream media.
But today the opening game will be shown live on BBC 1 and later today the clash between Australia and Fiji will also be shown live on BBC 2.
England are facing a formidable challenge from the Samoans, who have a squad that is perfectly capable of winning the World Cup.
But if Shaun’s team can emerge triumphant from today’s game, especially if the game itself is as thrilling as it promises to be, then we could see the new audience that Rugby League craves finally being attracted to the game.
Of course the most important word in the previous sentence was ‘if’. If only!
The history of World Cups in this country demonstrates that an England victory in the first game of the tournament sets up the event to be successful, whereas a bad defeat can have an unduly negative effect. Contrast what happened in 1995 with the World Cup five years later.
Today’s England team will be packed with experience against a Samoan side that is packed with talent but which may not have had sufficient time to adjust to conditions in this country. England are probably fortunate to be playing them in the first game of the World Cup, rather than in the third round of fixtures, when the Samoans will probably have improved greatly from their opening match.
So what can we expect today?
I’m going for a narrow England win and I’ll be delighted if we win by just one point with a late field-goal.
That would certainly get the nation talking (or at least that part of it that loves sport) and we might even be able to forget for a while the problems that the country is currently facing.
Read Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column every Monday in League Express. Subscribe to the print or online edition by going here.