First published in League Express, Monday 21st Oct 2013
The World Cup begins on Saturday and already it looks to be a record-breaking tournament in terms of attendances, even if no more tickets are sold this week.
The opening double-header will draw a crowd well in excess of 40,000 to the Millennium Stadium, and, provided too many supporters are not deterred by England’s disappointing performance against Italy on Saturday, or the fact that the rail line across the River Severn will be shut down, it may even touch 50,000.
It’s funny how Network Rail has decided to close the Severn Tunnel just when the World Cup is kicking off.
The Welsh First Minister Carwyn James has also commented on that particular coincidence, saying: “If there were events taking place every single week in the Millennium Centre, the Millennium Stadium or the [Cardiff] City Stadium, you might say ‘okay, there are some weekends when that’s inevitable’ but for some reason they choose weekends when there are big events taking place in Cardiff.”
A bonus, however, is that the World Cup was discussed on the Sunday Politics Wales programme on BBC Wales, which may be the first time Rugby League has been discussed on that show.
And, with more than 60,000 tickets already having been sold for the Old Trafford final, that crowd will now eclipse all bar the 1992 final, when 73,631 spectators turned up to see Australia beat Great Britain at Wembley.
Last week we heard that England’s game against Ireland at Huddersfield on 2nd November has been sold out. And I’m sure that other news about sold out games will soon follow.
That’s a great achievement, and a credit to the RLWC2013 staff who have organised the tournament, which appears to be on track to generate around £15 million for the worldwide game.
Even the Prime Minister David Cameron has recorded a video message welcoming the World Cup and encouraging people to get out and see a game or two.
If there is one legacy that I would strongly like to see after the tournament is over, it is that money going towards a fully funded Rugby League International Federation office, which should be charged with developing the game worldwide.
At last I think we’re within touching distance of attaining that objective.
Ghostbusters, are you there?
When Steve McNamara walked into the press conference after England’s 15-14 defeat against Italy at Salford on Saturday, he had the look of someone who had just seen a ghost.
Unfortunately it’s a look that we’ve seen on the faces of plenty of England coaches in the past.
In fact it’s hard to remember an England or Great Britain coach who didn’t have it at some point in his tenure.
The difference in their case, however, is that they normally looked haunted after losing a Test series to Australia.
To lose to Italy is on quite a different scale.
Super League Showdown
I would dearly love to be a fly on the wall at the meeting of the Super League clubs this Wednesday.
The RFL is hoping that the clubs will finally pass a formal vote in favour of its Policy Review proposals, and that it will be able to see off the challenge from Wigan Chairman Ian Lenagan and the other Super League clubs that called time on the proposals on 7 October.
Since then letters to the Super League clubs have been flying around from various sources, including Gary Hetherington of Leeds and Eamonn McManus of St Helens, both of them opposing the Wigan Chairman’s intervention, claiming, among other things, that it had come too late in the day.
Gary’s letter in particular goes through the issues point by point, trying to demonstrate that the clubs have effectively agreed the new structure and suggesting that it is far too late to change anything.
In typical Gary style, it’s a very smart letter.
The trouble is, however, that the proposals haven’t yet been formally adopted, so until they are, it’s never too late to change them, or to reject them entirely. That is what the clubs may decide to do on Wednesday.
In my opinion the proposals will take the game down the wrong road, and therefore I support the idea of scuppering them, even at the eleventh hour.
Unfortunately, anyone who plans ahead on the basis that the proposals will probably be adopted can therefore get their fingers burned, as some clubs in the Championship claim to have done.
The RFL now seems confident of being able to muster its forces to win the day at the Super League meeting. It has been applying pressure to some of the more shaky clubs over the last few days.
But will the clubs really go down this road?
Are the Super League clubs prepared to slit their own throats?
By adopting the RFL’s proposals we will soon move to a position whereby there will effectively only be eight Super League clubs – the eight that continually end up in the top echelon of the three-eights at the end of each season. Only the most inveterate optimist would think that it wouldn’t work out that way.
Those clubs and their supporters will get sick of playing each other too frequently, and the other six will gradually decline. I wish it were not so, but I fear it will be.
The Championship clubs need support in being able to raise their profile and make progress, but there are better ways to do it than by the method the RFL has chosen to adopt.
Strangely, the RFL and the Super League clubs had agreed to undertake negotiations to resolve their areas of disagreement.
The RFL had agreed to discuss, over a three-month period, the management of Super League business by Super League within an RFL framework and the representation by the Professional and Community Game on the RFL Board of Directors.
It now looks as though the RFL is going to try to push its proposals through the Super League clubs on Wednesday.
It may succeed, but if it does I don’t think it will just be the Super League clubs that will live to regret it.