When news filtered through on Saturday that Steve Prescott’s incredible battle against terminal cancer had finally come to an end, I and a number of former players who had assembled at Hull to watch England’s World Cup match with Fiji were so sad.
It might not have been entirely unexpected, but watching him fight on for seven years was absolutely amazing.
He fought the disease so incredibly that I suppose we all began to think he was invincible.
Even when news came through earlier this year that he wasn’t well, I think many assumed it was just a blip. Steve, surely, would bounce back. After all, this was a man who, with terminal cancer, had run marathons, rode a bike up mountains in the boiling sun and who had rowed across the Thames.
But it wasn’t to be.
I met Steve plenty of times and took part in a lot of charity events for his Foundation. The Rugby League family really got behind the Steve Prescott Foundation and I hope that we will all continue to support it in the future.
On behalf of myself and everybody at Wish Communications, who staged two golf days for Steve, sincere condolences to his wife and sons and the rest of his family.
He will never be forgotten.
England continued to frustrate and excite, although in not quite equal measures again.
Like against Ireland, I thought the long periods of disappointment told us more than the 25 or 30 minutes in which they put their opponents to the sword.
And, having watched New Zealand batter Papua New Guinea so comprehensively the night before, only the keenest of England fans would claim they will be favourites when they meet in the semi-final at Wembley.
We lose our shape too easily and players are too often too quick to do their own things rather than do what they’ve presumably been taught to do on the training field.
Once England upped the tempo, the points came quite easily. They played on the fringes more and got the ball wider, and that was the difference, but the struggle of the first half is how the game will be remembered.
Concentration levels in our own 20-metre area leave a lot to be desired. If that’s not eradicated, we will be punished heavily later in the competition.
Steve McNamara needs to pick his best side now and, for me, that would be Kevin Sinfield at hooker with Rob Burrow at seven and Gareth Widdop at six. Widdop hasn’t had much game time, however, and we all know Steve doesn’t seem to rate him, so Rangi Chase will keep his place.
Rangi is capable of turning it on against New Zealand and Australia, but he’s failed to do so in the past.
I know I’m looking ahead a week, but can we beat New Zealand? With Sam Burgess and James Graham, who were superb against Fiji, at their best, we will always have a chance.
It’s going to come down to who handles the pressure better at the important points of the game. Can we contain their halfbacks, and can we contain Sonny Bill Williams?
Right now you’d have to say that the Kiwis will beat England and I also think they’ll go on to beat Australia and retain their trophy.
The news of Lee Briers’s retirement got me thinking where he stands in a list of all-time Super League’s best players.
Based on club form only since 1996, I would have him a lot higher than most. I rate Paul Sculthorpe the best, then Iestyn Harris, Lee, Jimmy Lowes and Keiron Cunningham.
But when you look at that list as a Great Britain supporter, it’s actually quite depressing.
Lee, unbelievably, never got picked against the Kiwis or Aussies, while Iestyn, Jimmy and Keiron were either wrongly used, in the wrong code, overlooked or injured for the the most part.
Doesn’t that sum up our international fortunes in the summer era? For too long, the wrong types of players have played in the most important positions, and many people think the same thing is happening right now.
As for Lee, I thoroughly enjoyed watching every moment of his career since he replaced the suspended Bobbie Goulding and helped get Saints to Wembley in 1997.
He is up there with the greatest of Warrington legends in my opinion. What he has produced since Tony Smith took over has been a joy to watch.
All the best in your retirement Lee, and I hope you make it as a great coach.
First published in League Express, Monday 11th Nov 2013