Garry Schofield reveals how impressed he was by the New South Wales State of Origin team
I’ve never been one for sitting on the fence whether as a player, coach or pundit.
So I’ll say straight out – England, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea will be playing for second place at the World Cup, whether that’s this year or next.
I’m as passionate as anyone about our national team, be it Great Britain or England, and I can’t overstate how much I’d love us to get the better of Australia.
But that it won’t happen is the only conclusion you can draw from the Origin opener, in which New South Wales smashed Queensland in Townsville in a fantastic match, which showed just how potent a side Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga can put out.
So much for the Maroons being able to take advantage of playing on home turf. To be fair, the holders weren’t that bad, it’s just that the Blues were simply sensational.
New South Wales played the swashbuckling, free-flowing kind of rugby people love to watch as they ran in eight tries, three of them by Tom Trbojevic and two by Latrell Mitchell, in their 50-6 win.
Those two were superb in the centres, Ivan Cleary was classy and creative in the halves, and the platform was well laid by the forward pack.
I read it was Queensland’s heaviest defeat by their old rivals in 58 years, and they didn’t really know what had hit them.
Now Paul Green has to pick up the pieces, and it will be interesting to see how he approaches game two in Brisbane at the end of this month.
Putting the brakes on Trbojevic will be key, and as ex-Queensland great Cameron Smith said: “He almost had free rein and just carved up the edge defence.”
Credit Brad Fittler for his brilliant coaching and willingness to give his New South Wales players the freedom to express themselves on the pitch.
As my old mate Peter Sterling said, the way Turbo Tom and play-anywhere Latrell combined, constantly interchanging to confuse the opposition, was a real throwback.
It rekindled memories of the days when Gene Miles and Mal seamlessly doubled up with whoever they were partnering and played with thrilling fluency and flair.
Fittler is surely the Kangaroos coach-in-waiting, and could the powers-that-be Down Under be tempted to move Mal on and get him in the hot seat before this Autumn’s tournament?
I say this Autumn, but we still can’t be sure the tournament can go ahead in the form it really needs to.
The recent League Express interview with World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton was really interesting.
I think he’s done a great job so far, and I admired his determination and optimism, but the last thing he’ll want to have seen last week was the postponement of the Super League games between Huddersfield and Wigan and Leeds and St Helens due to Covid issues.
Given the ongoing problems at Leeds, with the training ground having to be closed, it seems Saturday’s game at Catalans is also in doubt, which is a further concern.
The problems posed by the pandemic might have eased in recent months, and the vaccine roll-out has been a huge boost, but we still have travel restrictions and the worrying possibility of a new wave.
These postponements show how quickly a situation can escalate.
As I’ve written before, if the grounds can’t be full and overseas fans can’t travel, it won’t be the festival of Rugby League is should be.
The financial implications could be major, not just for the game itself but for the towns and cities staging matches, which will miss out on the income all those visitors would generate.
I certainly wouldn’t discount the World Cup being put back by a year.
Where to now, Kevin?
(This column was written before the news that Kevin Sinfield will be joining Leicester Tigers next season).
There have been a couple of Kevins, Brown and Sinfield, in the news of late.
One of them is retiring, the other has been further honoured by the Queen amid being linked with a move to rugby union.
I’d like to wish Kevin Brown all the best with whatever he does next and congratulate him on a career that featured a World Cup final appearance and sterling service to all the clubs he played for.
Over the last few years, injuries have kicked in, which is no surprise since he is 36 and has played ten times as many matches as his age.
I suggested earlier this season that the time had come to call it a day, and it must all have become a bit of a slog.
He’s been doing some punditry work, so perhaps he will remain involved in Rugby League that way.
And I’d like to congratulate Kevin Sinfield on being awarded an OBE, having been made an MBE in 2014.
Kevin has spearheaded the drive to raise funds to help his old team-mate Rob Burrow and others fighting motor neurone disease.
And he’s done it with amazing energy and stamina, as well as class, with the way he has spoken so well about something that is so close to his heart.
The rumours of a move to Leicester Tigers in a coaching capacity for the Leeds Rhinos director of rugby refuse to go away.
He had a go at union as a player with Yorkshire Carnegie and didn’t seem to particularly enjoy it, but plenty of Rugby League players have succeeded in union coaching roles, and it could be that he fancies the challenge.
It could also be that he’s disillusioned with our code – after all, he made an early departure from his role as the RFL’s rugby director, and he hasn’t been replaced.
Remember Kevin coming second to Andy Murray in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year back in 2015?
It would be no surprise if people had forgotten it, because, just as with the 2013 World Cup in this country, when all the talk was of legacy, those running the sport failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity.
What a crying shame it would be if we lost someone of Kevin Sinfield’s stature to the rival code.
Marshall’s uphill struggle
Salford players really need to buck their ideas up if we aren’t to lose another young British coach from Super League.
I thought their body language during the 40-4 defeat at Hull KR was telling, and will have left fans questioning a few attitudes.
This is a really tricky time for Richard Marshall as he tries to make a success of his first top-flight head-coaching role.
We know he has something to offer from his time in charge of Halifax and as assistant coach at St Helens.
I really hope he gets through this difficult spell, but he needs his players to do their bit.
Salford have an interesting test coming up, because they meet up with their old coach Ian Watson at Huddersfield on Friday.
Even if the Red Devils get their act together, I think the Giants will have a bit too much quality and will win by 20.
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