The countdown to the 2021 World Cup is well and truly underway, and so far Rugby League’s timing has been spot on.
The situation surrounding Prince Harry and Meghan meant huge publicity when he conducted the draw for the three sections of the tournament on Thursday.
Congratulations to Jon Dutton and his organising team for a really well-conducted occasion at Buckingham Palace and for making the most of the previously unexpected opportunity that presented itself.
What a fantastic place to stage the draw for what is going to be a really important event for our game going forwards.
Having the women’s and wheelchair tournaments running alongside the men’s is a masterstroke.
Get the World Cup right, and it will be a real boost for Rugby League in the country as well as further afield.
I’m more than happy that the opening match between England and Samoa will be at St James’ Park.
What’s not to like about a big match at a great stadium in a great city?
The only thing that could make it better is to have a new England coach in place from this year onwards, because as I’ve said several times already, retaining Wayne Bennett wouldn’t do us any favours whatsoever.
But Newcastle is the right place to kick off the competition.
The city-centre setting of the stadium is excellent, the people love their sport and have been very welcoming to Rugby League fans in the past, the local club is progressive and ambitious, and the junior game in the area appears to be thriving.
Magic Weekend is back at St James’ Park this year – it shouldn’t have left in the first place, to be fair – and to have Newcastle Thunder play Doncaster as part of the event is a great initiative.
Thunder winning promotion to the Championship this year would create further momentum.
Going back to the draw for the men’s competition, it has been favourable for England, because while Samoa will present a challenge, France and Greece should be seen off comfortably.
Of the other home nations, Scotland could beat Italy but will have their work cut out, to put it mildly, against Australia and Fiji, while Ireland will need to get past Lebanon and Jamaica if they are to progress from a group that also includes New Zealand.
And you certainly have to feel for Wales, who will be up against Tonga, the big international success story of 2019, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands.
Time to change tackle laws?
Everyone connected with Rugby League will be praying for positive news on Mose Masoe, the Hull KR forward whose career has been ended by a serious spinal injury sustained during the pre-season match at Wakefield.
Mose needed emergency surgery, and it has been reported that a successful outcome would be if he can walk again, which is very worrying.
Rugby is a contact sport, and in any contact sport there us always the risk of injury. Thankfully, such serious cases are rare, although that is no consolation to Mose or his loved ones.
While you can’t realistically take tackles out of the game, and I don’t think many people would want to, there are a couple of things that could be brought in to reduce the risks.
I would make it a maximum of two players making a tackle.
Players these days are such prime athletes, so fit and strong, that having three or four involved in a challenge adds significantly to the pressure on a tacked player as he goes to ground, therefore increasing the risk of injury.
Two players should be easily enough to bring one man down, and the main reason three or four get involved is to slow the game down when from the point of view of making Rugby League more watchable, it would be better to speed up the restart.
I would also bring back the five-metre defensive line at the play-the-ball.
It wouldn’t be to the detriment of the game, and it would mean players making a tackle would have less time to build up momentum, therefore lessening the physical impact on the player being tackled.
Wolves set the pace
Sorry if I’m repeating myself, but it’s a point well worth making.
We’re now only ten days away from the start of a new season, but apart from us Rugby League fans, who would know it?
Rugby union goes on and on about the Six Nations, which starts on the same weekend as Super League. That is not at all helpful for us and it could have been avoided. And we also hear plenty about darts and snooker events that are coming up.
The Rugby League Word Cup draw hit the headlines, which was great, but what of the domestic season? Very, very little!
I’m not the biggest fan of Warrington’s match marketing techniques, but at least they try to create some interest.
Ahead of the season-opening clash at Wigan in Thursday week, Warrington chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick stoked the fire by suggesting that, contrary to Wigan Chairman Ian Lenagan’s denial, the Warriors did want to re-sign Anthony Gelling, who played for them between 2012 and 2017.
The Cook Islands international, of course, has joined Warrington after his season at Widnes.
Gelling is an entertainer, and, on his day, a very good centre, although as a bloke who loves to play off the cuff and do his own thing, it will be interesting to see how he fits into Steve Price’s structured way of going about things.
In addition, he is a character who loves to interact with fans, which is great, and with their innovative approach to marketing and social media, Warrington should be able to exploit that.
What a huge story unfolding in rugby union with the relegation from the Premiership of Saracens.
The domestic game’s biggest club has been punished for persistent breaches of the salary cap.
Saracens had already been fined £5.4 million and deducted 35 points for three seasons of spending above the limit, which left them in danger of the drop.
Now the club has chosen relegation rather than to open up the books for further scrutiny.
I believe the governing body of that sport should be congratulated for taking such decisive action, as should the other clubs for standing firm against the biggest one going.
I know Canterbury Bulldogs and Melbourne Storm have been fairly heavily punished Down Under, but would the sport’s powers-that-be over here have had the crystals to do the same thing in such an instance, and would the other Super League clubs have pushed for such punishment knowing the knock-on effect would be a drop in gates?
I’m not so sure.