What a week!
This World Cup really came of age last week with great performances from teams like Fiji, Scotland, Tonga, the USA and the Cook Islands.
Friday’s and Saturday’s games were predictably one-sided, but we all know that the big three – Australia, New Zealand and England – are going to thrash the other nations, although huge credit to Fiji for their performance against the Kangaroos.
I am writing this before the games on Sunday, so I don’t know whether Wales held off the USA and Scotland were able to beat Italy.
But the games last week at Rochdale, Workington and Bristol will live long in the memory. It is events like these that make World Cups.
We know the big three will always be the best trio in any Rugby League competition, but trying to predict how things will pan out between the rest is virtually impossible, and with so much riding on the games – especially in groups C and D, where one defeat might mean elimination – you’re virtually guaranteed an explosive encounter.
And I had the pleasure of attending the best game of the competition so far when I travelled to Workington to watch Scotland against Tonga on Tuesday night.
With everyone tipping the Tongans, Scotland put in an unbelievable first half, although I didn’t think it was too much of a surprise as playing in Workington, where they’ve been based for a fortnight now, meant it was pretty much a home game for them.
And Tonga had a nightmare journey up to Cumbria by all accounts.
On the field, Scotland were strongest where Tonga were weakest – at stand-off, scrum-half and hooker, the three most important positions on the field. So although Tonga had numerous NRL superstars in their threequarters and forwards, the game was complete proof that the ballplayers are the ones that make a team tick.
Even so, their second-half performance was extraordinary as they roared back into the game by dominating possession.
As a Brit, I was delighted to see Scotland recover from the onslaught to win although, as I watched the mayhem unfold, I couldn’t help but feel slightly sad that this sort of action in front of a huge crowd hasn’t been seen in Cumbria for a couple of decades.
After the Olympics, all we heard about was ‘legacy’ – and rightly so.
If the RFL do just one good thing to make sure there is a positive legacy after this World Cup, they should get up to Cumbria and start the ball rolling that might, one day, lead to Super League being played every fortnight in Rugby League’s third county.
It is a massive wrong that needs putting right.
They churn out so many players, and there are so many people up there who love the game. Rugby League isn’t a strong enough game not to have a huge area like that achieving its full potential.
Any reader of this column in the last couple of years will know that I have a huge soft spot for the Cumbrian sides. It really is time now that they were given the help they need.
It’s for the benefit of Rugby League as a whole as much as theirs.
England’s easy win over Ireland doesn’t tell us a thing about their competition prospects, so there isn’t too much point in going into too much detail about it.
They carved up the Irish at will early on and it looked certain that they would cover the 46-point handicap, but then struggled to maintain that rhythm in the final 50 minutes and fell short of winning by that margin.
On paper though, we obviously look stronger with James Graham and Sean O’Loughlin in there – if only they’d played against Australia! And we will improve further when Sam Burgess is back from suspension.
But what about Michael McIlorum? I feel that he has the X-factor that we will need to compete later in the tournament and I hope that Steve McNamara sees him as his wild card and not merely as a squad member.
Last Friday I was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame, and words can barely do justice to such an honour.
To whoever was on the judging panel – thank you!
When I looked at the 17 existing names and then at the three other players – Lewis Jones, Martin Offiah and Mick Sullivan – who were being placed into the Hall of Fame alongside me, it brought home what a wonderful honour something like this is.
Mick and I share the Great Britain caps record and it was great to see him again after such a long time.
You don’t dream when you begin your career that you might, one day, be spoken of like this.
It was fantastic on Friday evening to be at the dinner at Huddersfield where the induction took place.
Over £10,000 was raised for Rugby League Cares as well, which was a superb effort. They are a charity that is well worth supporting.
First published in League Express, Monday 4th Nov 2013