MARTYN SADLER, the editor of League Express, pays tribute to the World Cup’s smaller nations. This is a modified version of part of his ‘Talking Rugby League’ article in this week’s newspaper.
The more you watch the World Cup, the more you realise that the tournament isn’t really about the big three of Australia, New Zealand and England.
It’s really about the eleven other teams that are taking part.
Most of them have got very little money, so their players are being paid peanuts, if anything at all.
The Fijians, for example, who joined with their Aussie opponents after their game on Saturday at St Helens to say a prayer in the middle of the pitch.
Scotland and the USA are also perfect examples of teams playing for pride rather than financial reward.
Both these teams were probably the rank outsiders for the tournament before it started. Maybe they still are.
The Americans were the last to play their first round game, and they will be the first to play their third round game just eight days later, when they take on the Scots at Salford tonight.
It looks as though the organisers probably thought that the Americans and Scots were so obviously not going to quality for the quarter-finals that they could kick off the third round and then be sent packing and heading for home.
Who could possibly have believed that these two teams could be heading into tonight’s game both undefeated, and with both of them having a strong chance of reaching the quarter-finals.
I would urge all our readers to buy your tickets for Salford for Thursday night and to support one of these two teams that have both given so much to the World Cup.
The USA may be the most powerful nation on earth. But in the Rugby League World the Tomahawks are the most minor of minor nations.
And that brings me to the clubs that have been staging World Cup games.
I was at Rochdale a week last Monday and at Workington the following day.
Both those clubs worked wonders in promoting those games, and they were rewarded with tremendous and atmospheric crowds, bigger than had been seen at those venues for very many years.
Both games were hugely enjoyable occasions, as virtually all the games in the tournament so far have been.
Our smaller clubs, including North Wales Crusaders, have been doing us proud, and Leigh followed that example on Tuesday night, while we’ll see another tremendous turnout at Halifax on Sunday for the game between Tonga and Italy, with virtually no tickets remaining.
But the most impressive performances in many respects have come from places that don’t have professional clubs at all.
At Bristol eight days ago 7,247 people turned out to see the game between the USA and the Cook Islands, when the organisers had probably expected a maximum of 5,000.
And in Avignon on Friday a staggering 17,518 people were attracted to the game between France and New Zealand.
It was a shame that the Kiwis were so much stronger than their hosts, but the French supporters didn’t seem to mind as much as we may have feared. They seemed just glad to watch a great rugby team.
Bristol is a very interesting case, and I’m proud to say that we at League Publiations played a minor facilitating role in the whole process.
Just over eleven years ago Phil Cole came onto the TotalRL forum and posted a message about a meeting that had been arranged to talk about setting up an amateur club in Bristol. Several people responded, and, a few weeks later, the Bristol Sonics were formed. Eleven years on, that club has played a leading role in staging a Rugby League World Cup game.
It can’t get much better than that.