You might have noticed that it was a wonderful weekend in the southern hemisphere if you enjoy watching international and representative Rugby League.
For the first time since the pandemic struck, top-class Rugby League returned to New Zealand as the Kiwis hosted the Tongans in Auckland and they were rewarded with a sold-out crowd at Mt Smart Stadium, with lots of red flags in the crowd as the Tongan supporters made their voices heard.
Unfortunately the one man who should have been there – the Tongan coach Kristian Woolf – was unable to be in New Zealand because our mid-season break came a week earlier than the one organised by the NRL.
How ridiculous that the two governing bodies in Rugby League in the two hemispheres can’t hold the representative round on the same weekend.
Be that as it may, it was a wonderful weekend of rugby down under, with a full house watching the Kiwis take on Tonga and a full house of around 60,000 in the Western Australian capital Perth watching New South Wales hammer their Queensland opponents.
But perhaps even more impressive than that was the crowd of 11,321 attracted to the Australian capital Canberra on a chilly Friday night in the middle of their winter to watch the Women’s State of Origin match between the Blues and Maroons.
It’s truly remarkable how popular that game has become since its inauguration a few short years ago and it’s hardly surprising that the Australian Rugby League will be negotiating separate broadcasting deals for Women’s Rugby League as part of the next round of TV negotiations.
I hope the day comes when we can say the same in the northern hemisphere.
Also Down Under, we saw Samoa, England’s first World Cup opponents, secure their expected comfortable victory over the Cook Islands, while Papua New Guinea shocked their Fijian opponents, sending their great stalwart David Mead, who used to play for the Catalans Dragons, into retirement with a smile on his face.
It certainly whetted the appetite for this autumn’s World Cup tournament.
Having said all that, reports coming out of Australia suggest that the NRL will from next year abandon the representative weekend.
And how wrong is that?
Just when this particular weekend has become firmly established, with great excitement for the fans of those nations that participate, it is abandoned.
That, I’m afraid, is all too typical of Rugby League.
But it really was great to see our sport back in New Zealand after such a long absence.
Tickets going fast for England’s World Cup games
Talking about the World Cup, I was talking to Mick Hogan, one of the chief organisers of the tournament, and he was telling me that he is confident that all three of England’s pool games against Samoa in Newcastle, France in Bolton and Greece in Sheffield, are heading for sell-outs.
All three venues have comfortably sold more than half their capacity and Mick’s advice is not to wait until the last minute to buy tickets for these three matches, because you might be disappointed.
I hope he’s right and I look forward to the first announcement of a full house, probably for the opening game at St James’ Park.
It would probably be a good idea to follow his advice.
Make history at Wakefield
Wakefield’s East Stand is 100 years old, but next Sunday it will reach the end of its life.
After Trinity play Wigan on the Sunday, the demolition men will move in the following day to begin the long-awaited redevelopment of the Belle Vue stadium.
For some fans, who have been used to sitting in the stand, it will be an emotional day, as David Hinchliffe, the city’s former MP and an avid Wakefield supporter, makes clear on page 37 of this issue of League Express.
As someone who remembers sitting in that stand many years ago, I share his emotions but also his optimism that something better is about to replace it.
In the meantime, any fans who would like to sit in the stand for one last time should get themselves a ticket for the game at trinity.mysportstickets.co.uk.
On Sunday, Wakefield are planning a festival of Rugby League with a women’s game between Trinity and Castleford kicking off at 12.00pm and matches between Trinity and Wigan PDRL and LDRL teams after the main game.
I’m sure it will be a nostalgic day, although I hope that Trinity can put up a better show than they did in their 74-10 defeat by Salford on Sunday.
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.