League Express editor MARTYN SADLER discusses the Rugby League World Cup after the first two rounds of fixtures. This is his ‘Talking Rugby League’ column that was published in this week’s edition of the newspaper.
The Rugby League World Cup is throwing up some great action and some great tries.
But it would be good if it could produce more close matches.
At the time of writing we have had 16 games in the pool rounds.
Twelve of those games have ended with winning margins of more than 20 points, with Australia running up 84 points against Scotland last Friday night in a game that was a difficult watch for those of us who had been hoping that the underdogs would be able to put up a better show.
But there has been a lot to enjoy.
Both of England’s performances have been great to watch as they put Samoa to the sword and then came up against some spirited resistance from France, with Dominic Young bursting onto the scene as a standout newcomer for the home nation.
And I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the midweek matches, starting with the clash between France and Greece, with Greece scoring their first two World Cup tries, much to the pleasure of the Greek people who were watching the match in a bar in Athens.
The following night we had a great clash between Tonga and Papua New Guinea, with the Tongans winning 18-6 at half-time, before the Kumuls clawed their way back to 18-18 before Tonga grabbed the victory with a couple of minutes to go.
On Wednesday of the first week, we saw a spirited Wales side go so near, yet so far, as they went down 18-12 to the Cook Islands at Leigh Sports Village.
Then on Saturday we saw a special game at Hull, when Ben Jones-Bishop scored Jamaica’s first World Cup try and was given a guard of honour by both his team-mates and New Zealand’s players when he left the field.
On Monday of this week Tonga played Wales at St Helens, with a strong Tongan presence in the crowd, and they were given quite a challenge before they ran away with the match late on. On Tuesday night the Cook Islands played Papua New Guinea at Warrington in another hugely entertaining encounter before the Kumuls pulled away to win by 16 points.
So there’s a lot of fun to be had as the tournament continues to unfold, although as yet, apart from the England games, the World Cup has yet to fully catch on with the public. Perhaps that will happen when we get to the quarter final stage.
Minor nations over-matched
One of the problems with the tournament so far is that some of the minor nations have clearly been extended too far when placed in the Pools with the major nations.
The organisers moved away from the underlying logic of the 2017 tournament, but in doing that I’m not sure they were very wise.
14 nations took part in that tournament, with two seeded groups of four, which included the top eight nations, from which six won through to the quarter-finals, and then two weaker groups of three, from which two teams won through.
If we had followed the same pattern in 2022, we might have had a Group A consisting, for example, of England, Samoa, Australia and Fiji, and a Group B of New Zealand, Lebanon, Tonga and PNG, with three from each qualifying for the quarter-finals.
We might then have had a Group C of France, Greece, Italy and Scotland, and a Group D of Ireland, Jamaica, Wales and the Cook Islands, with the top team from each group going through to the quarter-finals.
In Rugby League we can never guarantee avoiding one-sided games, as England showed against Samoa, but that structure wouldn’t have generated as many lopsided scorelines as we have seen. Scotland and Jamaica might still have struggled, but they at least wouldn’t be expected to turn out against Australia and New Zealand respectively.
The games would have been much more competitive.
For example, we had this structure in 2013, when the nine games between the six weaker nations in Pools C and D were decided by an average margin of 6.67 points.
This year, that sort of margin has only happened so far in Group D.
The Leigh Leopards
A week ago I attended the presentation by Leigh owner Derek Beaumont that set out the rebrand of the club from the Centurions to the Leopards.
It was an interesting presentation that has since been widely mocked by some people who weren’t there.
There were some potentially valid criticisms of the abandonment of their traditional club colours of cherry and white hoops, combined with some criticism of the new shirt, the logo and the way in which the rebrand was revealed.
I can fully understand the doubts that some people might have. But the club is changing an identity that is too readily associated with failure in Super League to a new identity that may deliver success. Inevitably, however, change is controversial for many fans.
Rebrands tend to work best when a club is on the verge of a new era, which we are seeing in Rugby League.
As I wrote on Twitter, it’s easy to scoff, whether at the plan, the strip, the owner or the town of Leigh, but it’s far harder to create a viable plan that will change the destiny of a club. I hope the Leopards can become as successful as the Rhinos, which was another controversial rebrand at the time.
I found it very difficult to watch the documentary about Rob Burrow on the BBC last week without welling up.
It’s so incredibly distressing to see what has happened to Rob and to reflect on the fact that no one can do anything to reverse the terrible disease that has struck him down.
And yet you would need a heart of stone not to recognise what a wonderful woman his wife Lindsey is.
How she and her children have managed to cope with Rob’s illness, while presenting such a strong face to the outside world, is truly inspiring.
She really is a remarkable woman and the Burrows are a truly incredible family.
Rob Burrow achieved some great things in his life before being struck down by motor neurone disease.
But I’m certain that the greatest thing he ever did was to get down on one knee and propose marriage to Lindsey.
Martyn Sadler writes a weekly Rugby League column in League Express. You can take out a subscription at https://www.totalrl.com/league-express/