World Cup on a knife-edge

Talking Rugby League with League Express editor Martyn Sadler

Will the World Cup go ahead?

I certainly hope so, but the problems with the Covid pandemic in Australia and New Zealand and their government’s requirements for quarantining anyone who visits Europe, certainly make the event less attractive from the viewpoint of officials and players down under.

It actually reminds me of the situation 20 years ago, after the terrorist attack known as 9/11 in America.

The Australians were due to tour that year, but after that act of terrorism they got cold feet and threatened to withdraw from the tour.

I distinctly remember the then captain of the Australian squad, Brad Fittler, suggesting that all sorts of disasters could befall the Australians if they came to this country.

Fortunately sanity prevailed in the end and they came here, unfortunately beating us once again in the Ashes series, but without any unfortunate incidents away from the pitch.

This year it is ironic that Fittler is the coach of the successful New South Wales side that has won the 2021 State of Origin series and many people are suggesting that he should be the coach of the Kangaroos.

The actual coach, of course, is Mal Meninga and I hope that Mal shows rather more determination than Brad did all those years ago.

As someone else pointed out, the Wallabies rugby union side are also due to tour this country this autumn, and there is no sign as far as I’m aware that they are thinking about pulling out of that tour.

Perhaps the Australians in the other code can shame their Rugby League counterparts to put their fears aside and fulfil their commitments to a World Cup that could be a game changer for Rugby League around the world.

Aussie selections threaten World Cup credibility

One thing I don’t like to see is the Australians trying to corner all the best talent for their World Cup squad when so many players are now signalling their intention to play for the South Pacific Nations that their families originate from.

The latest player to be tapped on the shoulder by Aussie coach Mal Meninga is Jarome Luai, who starred for New South Wales in the first two Origin games this year.

Luai made his debut for Samoa at the World Cup in 2017 and has signalled his intention to help that nation rival Tonga to become an international powerhouse in the future.

And Luai has strong Samoan connections with his Panthers team-mates Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Tyrone May and Spencer Leniu. In fact the more I think about the Samoan challenge in the World Cup this year, the more I anticipate a thrilling opening game of the tournament at Newcastle in October.

“I’ve seen some reports that he (Meninga) wanted to give me a buzz,” Luai said after Penrith’s 13-12 win over Parramatta on Friday night.

“I haven’t said ‘No’ to anything yet so it would be pretty cool to chat to him. You definitely have to respect someone like that and hear what he has to say.”

I really do hope that Meninga can’t get hold of Luai’s number.

Barrow showing us the way

The most remarkable piece of information in last week’s League Express was the crowd figure of 3,146 for Barrow’s home fixture against Workington Town.

It was a new ‘Summer Era’ record crowd at Barrow for a league match.

The previous record was 3,050 against Widnes in the Championship on 13 August 2009, although they did have an attendance of 3,650 against Salford in the Challenge Cup in 2000.

But the crowd last week was a remarkable achievement by Barrow for a club that is currently in the third tier of the game and it reflects enormous credit on the club as a whole and in particular its Chairman Steve Neale.

The club has gone out and sold itself to the people in its own district and the people of south Cumbria have responded beautifully.

So many other clubs, including some in Super League, could learn from what Barrow have done.

I couldn’t be happier, seeing such a traditional club re-discovering its audience.

Long may it continue.

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