Nine years ago England lost to Italy in a World Cup warm-up game at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford.
England went down 14-15 with Italy’s Josh Mantellato inflicting the killer blow, driving a field-goal straight through the posts two minutes from time.
It was a shock result and as our then League Express reporter Neil Barraclough wrote at the time, “England’s World Cup preparations were thrown into chaos after they fell to arguably the most embarrassing result in their history just seven days before Steve McNamara’s side face the mighty threat of Australia.”
Having said that, it’s worth recalling that the first four names on Italy’s team sheet that night were Anthony Minichiello, who was a Golden Boot winner with Australia, Mantellato, who would later play for Hull Kingston Rovers, James Tedesco, who will captain Australia at this World Cup, and Aidan Guerra, who would go on to play ten games for Queensland and would play for Australia the following year, perhaps it wasn’t quite as embarrassing as it looked at the time.
Of the England players who were in the squad that night nine years ago, Ryan Hall, Michael McIlorum, Kallum Watkins and Chris Hill were there again on Friday night and this time there can be no doubt that the result and the England performance should have silenced any doubters about England’s World Cup prospects.
Of course there was plenty of focus on the debutants for England and it’s fair to say that all of them – Dom Young, Andy Ackers, Marc Sneyd, Kam Pearce-Paul, Herbie Farnworth and Victor Radley – performed satisfactorily, with Young, Ackers and Sneyd standing out in attack, while Radley was as effective as Shaun Wane must have hoped in defence.
Clearly the player who made the biggest impression was Young, whose name had been mentioned earlier in the week in an interview by former Sky commentator Eddie Hemmings, who in a very clumsy way questioned Young’s commitment to the England cause because of his potential dual-qualification for Jamaica.
I doubt whether the player himself was much affected by that controversy but his performance was outstanding. He scored a great try and almost scored another, created a try and brought the ball out of defence with great commitment, looking for work in the middle of the field.
One poster on a Rugby League fans’ forum said this about him: “He’s a cross between Lesley Vainikolo, Jason Robinson, Sam Burgess and Ellery Hanley. But better.”
I’m not sure I would go that far, at least for the time being, but he certainly looks like a great asset.
And another great thing about him is that he is a tall winger. If he plays on the left wing against Samoa on Saturday, he is almost sure to be facing their young star Joseph Suaalii, who is also very tall and that should be a battle to savour. Suaalii is great at scoring from high kicks to the corner, but in facing Young, that will not be easy.
The Samoans have a strong contingent of players from the Penrith Panthers and if they all play next week, as I hope they do, then we are in for a potential thriller.
The World Cup will surely get off to a great start.
I predict a riot
I was impressed by the World Cup announcement last week that the Kaiser Chiefs will perform at the opening game of the Rugby League World Cup at Newcastle this Saturday.
That was an impressive announcement and will surely add a few thousand to the attendance for the game against Samoa.
One of the band’s best-known songs is the iconic ‘I predict a riot’, which could be a great anthem for the World Cup – a riot of colour, great rugby, great music and hopefully great coverage by the BBC.
As the band itself said: “All of us are huge sport fans so playing in front of a massive crowd at such an iconic stadium will be an honour. St James’ Park will be absolutely rocking and we’re there to ensure that when those players walk out onto that pitch, every single person in that stadium will be up for one of the biggest sporting events in Rugby League history.”
I’ll look forward to seeing them perform.
Wigan snap up Wardle
Wigan announced last night that they have snapped up Huddersfield centre Jake Wardle on a three-year deal.
The move will see Sam Halsall and Jack Bibby join the Giants on permanent deals.
Wardle, 23, came close to selection for England’s World Cup squad and he actually turned out for England on Friday night, even though he wasn’t named in the 24-man squad. He did score a try for England against the Combined Nations All Stars in June but has failed to hold his place since then.
Earlier this year I was surprised to see the Giants swap him for Toby King at Warrington, with both players going on loan.
And now both of those players will be playing for Wigan in the centres next season, which will give Wigan plenty of strike power.
Perhaps it’s the move they both needed to re-assert their England credentials.
Clive Sullivan MBE
BBC Wales has a new documentary going out this Wednesday about the great Clive Sullivan who was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame recently.
The programme follows his career, from growing up in Splott in Cardiff to moving to England to play Rugby League for Hull, before becoming the first black man to captain a British international sports team. It also questions why so many black players of that era moved north to play league, rather than staying in Wales.
It will be presented by former Welsh international footballer, and Clive’s nephew, Nathan Blake.
Featuring additional interviews with Clive’s family members, as well as former teammates from both Hull clubs, the programme will delve into Sullivan’s life and influence on and off the pitch. There is also archive footage from throughout his career, including a clip from 1983’s Superstars, where he took part in a 100m sprint against fellow sportsmen, including football legend George Best.
The programme will be shown on BBC Wales and BBC iPlayer this Wednesday at 10.40pm.
It will also be shown on BBC Two around the UK at 9.30pm on Friday 21 October.
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