World Cup brimming with memories

Malcolm Andrews
Malcolm Andrews

So there’s just one week to go. And what a wonderful World Cup it has been, despite plenty of denigration of the minnows from certain sections of the Australian media, who just can’t seem to see past the NRL.

Back home after my sojourn in the Mediterranean I have been sitting at home, dressed in a tee-shirt and shorts watching most of the games at the very respectable hour of 7.00am and realising why I didn’t bow to pressure and add three weeks to my vacation and spend it in the freezing rain of England.

But I thought I would share a few random thoughts on the state of play.

What a delight it was to see Widnes backrower Dave Allen in the Irish side. His appearance brought back memories of the internationally renowned Irish comedian of the same name, whose first claim to fame was in a late-night chat show on the Nine Television Network in Australia in the 1960s.

In his time in Australia he became a real fan of Rugby League, thanks to a friendship with several South Sydney players, including winger Mike Cleary, who represented Australia in both codes of rugby and also in athletics at Commonwealth Games level.

Allen hooked up with the 1967 Kangaroos when they visited London for the Second Test against Great Britain, at White City, part of the first Ashes series I ever saw in Old Blighty.

On a wet and wild night the players took Allen back with them to their digs at the Hotel Russell, where Allen gave a most unusual and highly risqué public performance.

But, what is it they say? What happens on tour … stays on tour!

While on the subject of Ireland, the Wolfhounds match against Australia provided a couple of interesting talking points.

On one occasion a player touched referee Phil Bentham. It was a playful encounter, but how things have changed over the years.

Just ask former Australian Test prop Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach.

In a 1990 match in Sydney referee Eddie Ward dispatched Roach to the sin-bin. As he left, Roach grinned and patted Ward, who was many centimetres shorter, on the top of the head.

The judiciary was not amused. Roach was handed a $5,000 fine and a four-match suspension, even though it was obvious that there was no malice intended.

“It was stupid thing to do,” Roach later admitted.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment gesture. There was no malice in it. I just wanted Eddie to know I wasn’t dirty with him.”

Pat Richards’ performances for Ireland showed what a bonus he will be for Wests Tigers in 2014. The Tigers’ backline is lacking in experience, which Richards will provide in spades.

One of the annoying aspects of the World Cup coverage, at least for me if not for the viewers in England, is commentator Andrew Voss. Perhaps those of us in Australia have been spoiled by the great Ray ‘Rabbits’ Warren.

Voss used to be his understudy, but I assume he never learned the secret of Rabs’ success.

Perhaps he should sit back and take a few pointers from the other World Cup commentator, the excellent and truly professional Dave Woods.

Voss is clear and accurate in his calls, but he tries too hard to raise a laugh with ‘smart alec’ jokes that are often far from funny.

I have a couple of queries of my own.

Why do the English players sing God Save the Queen? It is, after all, the national anthem for the United Kingdom, which also includes Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

And why is the Man of the Match picked 10 minutes before full-time? After all, the whole course of the game can be changed by some individual brilliance in those final minutes – brilliance that could alter a Man of the Match vote.

Can there be any other choice of Coach of the Tournament than Terry Matterson? He took over the helm of the United States side just 13 days before the Americans’ first match.

Then his players were unfairly forced to play three games in nine days. Yet against all those odds, Matterson was still able to steer them into the quarter-finals.

It was fitting that the lovable giant Petero Civoniceva was able to lead the land of his birth (Fiji) in his final Rugby League match, against his adopted country (Australia) in the semi-finals.

To repeat one of the most-used clichés in sport, he has been an ornament to the game.

And what of the future? Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been brilliant on the wing for the Kiwis.

Think how good he is going to be when, with the retirement of former Golden Boot winner Anthony Minichiello, he switches to his preferred role as a fullback at the Roosters.

Speaking of which, has there ever been a period in Rugby League history in which we have had so many superb players with No 1 on their backs? Or in the old days, occasionally No 13? Sam Tomkins, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Kevin Locke, Justin Hoffman, Anthony Milford, Ben Barba, James Tedesco, Josh Morris and Minichiello for starters.

Finally, for me, the most moving moment of the World Cup tournament has been the tribute on the day the inspirational British Test player Steve Prescott was taken from us in the prime of his life.

It was expected to be a minute’s silence – something that is occasionally interrupted by some insensitive yobbo.

Instead, there was a spontaneous display of affection. A few fans started clapping. And within seconds the entire stadium was reverberating with applause. I stood in the predawn gloom in my living room in Australia and joined in the ovation.

It was not disrespectful. It was a heartfelt tribute to a hero who will inspire us for decades to come. A celebration of a life far too short!

When I think of World Cups in the future, I will get goose-bumps and think of Steve Prescott.

First published in League Express, Monday 25th Nov 2013