Two great finals in glorious sunshine, but Covid still lurks

Upfront: The League Express opinion – Mon 19th July 2021

Saturday’s Wembley double-header provided an indicator of the best we could see at the World Cup later this year – and also the worst.

There’s not much chance the weather will be the same come October, but hopefully the atmosphere will be.

After the scenes of disorder at football’s European Championship final six days earlier, all the indications are that around 40,000 Rugby League fans showed how to enjoy a day out while respecting the right of others to do the same.

Featherstone and St Helens took the honours as an entertaining 1895 Cup final in which York more than played their part was followed by a Challenge Cup showpiece which featured fluent passages of play, some top tries, and a dash of controversy – not to mention confusion over when a player is in touch – as James Roby claimed his side’s second try against Castleford.

Regardless of whether his score was legal or not, it’s impossible not to be in awe of the Saints skipper, who at 35 remains such a rugged, durable and talented performer.

He appeared almost superhuman, seemingly covering every part of the pitch as he played the full 80 minutes in temperatures which must have sapped the energy of spectators, never mind players.

And on a weekend packed with sporting action, it was great to see Roby, and Rugby League, feature prominently and positively in a number of national bulletins.

On a more worrying note, during the build-up to the two games, especially the 1895 Cup final, Covid was talked about more than anyone would have liked.

That was against a background of an increasing number of Super League matches, plus some from the lower divisions, being postponed due to players testing positive or having to isolate as close contacts of those who have.

And with gloomy predictions of what might happen in the weeks and months following ‘freedom day’, while the announcement that the World Cup will definitely go ahead in October and November was welcome, we can’t be sure exactly which nations will line up across the three sections of the tournament, men’s, women’s and wheelchair, and whether the opening up of venues to full capacity will remain in place.

With the event just three months away, tournament chief executive Jon Dutton needed to jump one way or the other – giving the green light or putting it on hold until 2022 – and it goes without saying that he really could have done without uncertainty over whether or not Australia will come to the UK to defend their men’s and women’s titles.

Time, and possibly Mr Dutton’s negotiating skills, will tell.

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