Garry Schofield is delighted to see the World Cup schedule for next year
I could have been previewing the World Cup final in this column.
The big match was originally due to take place alongside the women’s showpiece at Old Trafford on Saturday, with the wheelchair final in Liverpool on Friday.
Of course Covid came along, Australia and New Zealand withdrew citing safety concerns, and the tournament was postponed.
That was a huge call for the organisers to make, but in my opinion, while very disappointing, it was the right one.
And it’s to tournament chief executive Jon Dutton’s huge credit that he acted so decisively, and along with his team, set about rearranging it for next Autumn.
In less than four months, and with seemingly the minimum of fuss, the entire event has been rescheduled, and with only a few major changes, which, given the amount of work and discussions that must have been involved, is an amazing achievement.
After all, it’s not just grounds we’re talking about, but training facilities, hotels and flights.
To avoid a clash with the football World Cup in Qatar, another sensible move, our version will begin with England’s men’s group game against Samoa at St James’ Park, a great venue, on Saturday, October 15.
It will finish five weeks later with the double-header of men’s and women’s finals at Old Trafford on Saturday, November 19.
Now Manchester will also host the wheelchair final the day before.
There are a few other ground swaps, with the other opening-day match, between Australia and Fiji, at Headingley rather than Hull’s MKM Stadium, which will now host New Zealand versus Jamaica instead of Leeds.
Then the second men’s quarter-final will be staged alongside the England-Canada women’s game at Wigan not Anfield, which I certainly don’t have a problem with.
It always seemed strange that such a Rugby League stronghold didn’t have a World Cup match in the first place, while I think many would agree with me when I say taking Magic Weekend to Liverpool back in 2019 was a mistake.
It’s good to see the DW Stadium getting in on the action – and maybe the locals will get to see some expansive, entertaining rugby for a change!
While there will be no shortage of TV coverage, I really hope fans, both existing and new, will turn out to watch games from the grounds, because it’s a great chance to see some of the best athletes in the world.
As Jon Dutton said: “There are world-class, compelling matches across all three tournaments at some of the most iconic venues across England.”
He’s spot-on! The tournament is something to really look forward to, and let’s all do our bit, however small, to give it a push and make sure he achieves his target of making it the biggest and best Rugby League World Cup yet.
Given the job he’s done so far, he deserves to do just that.
And, of course, let’s hope England can get to the final, and win it, although given the strength of a number of opponents, that’s a tall order.
I’m proud to have represented both England and Great Britain, and as desperate as anyone to see us lift the trophy.
But the two matches England have had under Shaun Wane, against the Combined Nations All Stars in June and France last month, show he has plenty of work to do to get to a stage where we can genuinely challenge the Aussies and Kiwis, even with home advantage.
Lam’s U-turn on returning home
Be honest, how many of us envisaged Adrian Lam ending up at Leigh when he announced back in August that he would be leaving Wigan at the end of the season?
It’s a curious one, because it was generally thought he would be heading back to Australia, perhaps as an assistant coach, after three, by cherry and white standards, indifferent years at the helm.
Perhaps it’s an indication of a lack of jobs in the NRL, or maybe another example of the old pals’ act after he and Chris Chester, Leigh’s director of rugby, played alongside each other at Wigan.
Of course the decision on who should replace Kurt Haggerty, who himself replaced John Duffy, is down to Derek Beaumont, Chezzy and the rest of the powers-that-be at Leigh.
But I’m disappointed the job didn’t go to a bright, young British coach such as Richard Marshall or Danny Ward, both of whom have experience of the Championship.
It’s a tough old gig for Lam, because it’s been a tough old season for Leigh, and there could be a hangover from that.
In addition, there has been a big turnaround in personnel, and it could take a little time for things to gel.
Given the expectations of the Leythers, and their noted dislike of all things Wigan-related, Lam won’t get much of a honeymoon period, and it will be interesting to see whether he adopts the same monotonous tactical approach he took with the Warriors.
The supporters will want to see wins, and after such a dismal year, they will also want to be entertained, and I can’t see them being too happy if their coach goes the ‘Wigan way’.
It’s interesting that two former high-profile Super League coaches, Lam and Brian McDermott at Featherstone, are now operating in the Championship, which looks like being a really competitive affair this time.
It would help if clubs knew exactly what they were playing for, and suggestions of yet another league restructure with maybe a ‘Super League 2’ have led to a bit of a spending spree.
Halifax, who impressed under Simon Grix this year and have recruited well, and Bradford, Newcastle, Widnes and York have all made their intentions clear via retentions and new signings.
And with seasoned sides like Batley, London Broncos, Sheffield and Whitehaven to contend with, one thing seems sure – there will be very few, if any, easy games for the likes of Leigh and Featherstone.
Catalans’ smart move
I reckon Mitchell Pearce is a cracking signing for Catalans Dragons and a more-than-capable placement for James Maloney as Steve McNamara aims to build on this year’s Grand Final appearance.
Playing alongside his old man Wayne at Balmain was great, and in terms of attitude and enthusiasm, as well as quality, he’s right up there with Ellery Hanley among my old team-mates.
I think Mitchell is a chip off the old block, a dynamic halfback with more than 300 NRL games and Origin experience with New South Wales under his belt, and while he’s 32, he still has a bit left in the tank.
To be truthful, I wish another of my old clubs Leeds had signed him, because he’d have done a great job at Headingley and the fans would have loved him.
But he’s now a Catalans player, the Dragons have bagged themselves a good ‘un, and it will be really interesting to see how things progress over in Perpignan.
Can they make it two Grand Final appearances in a row?
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