Top 3 amusing things overheard at the footy: RLWC13 edition

imageMy experience at the RLWC13 last year was amazing. Mostly in ways not related to footy.  But there were a few things (footy related) that stick in my mind and still make me laugh.  And because not every post should be me up on my soapbox I thought I’d share.

3. “Is that Corey Parker? I thought it was Matt Le Blanc.” Young Welshman in the crowd at the Australia vs USA semi-final in Wrexham.

2. ‘Who are ya?” Crowd to Sonny Bill Williams after stepping over the dead ball line before planting the ball down at the New Zealand vs Samoa pool game in Warrington.

ausvfiji

Australia vs Fiji at Wembley Stadium

1. “Are you sure we are staying for this game? It’s frightfully boring.” Aged chap to his son 15 minutes into the Australia vs Fiji quarter final at Wembley in London (the crowd thinned out pretty quickly following New Zealand’s last gasp win in the preceding match).

Hearing comments from some real jokesters in the crowd is one of the many advantages of getting along to games.  Yes, there are tedious morons as well, but I can get that staying at home listening to the Channel 9 commentary.

 

Milford Sounded Out

It’s that time of year again.  Rep season eve.

Origin selections are less than a month away and the way you’d hear the coaches talking, state squads will consist of up to 50 players.  Everyone is an Origin bolter or on track for their Origin redemption

Apparently the eligibility rules were meant to clear everything up.  Just ask Luke Keary. On a side note I do have to feel for those kids who are dragged from state to state in families who must travel for work – assuming they can find league schools or clubs, their Origin fate may be sealed by dads most recent work contract, not their actual State of Origin.

If the Origin eligibility rules were meant to clear it all up, spare a thought for those navigating the International eligibility rules. The ‘flexibility’ of those rules do rugby leagues credibility a huge disservice. So we managed to get through the 2013 Rugby League World Cup with some interesting changes in international rankings due to NRL player dominated minor nations.  But the merry-go-round is spinning up again and players who fought valiantly in national colours only 6 months ago are now going to trade in their allegiances.

Some don’t appear to even get a choice.

Samoan flyer Anthony Milford is getting the hard word from his Raiders coach and being courted by both the Queensland and Australian coach.

Next month Samoa is a big chance of reeling in World Cup semi-finalists Fiji (playing without Petero Civonoceva) with the dynamic fullback key to Samoa’s chances. The winning team gets a rare crack at the Four Nations tournament in October, the biggest opportunity on offer for the Pacific minows.

milfordBut Milford’s coach Ricky Stuart has put his foot down, telling Anthony that he is not to play for Samoa, instead he should use the rep bye to recover from injuries (that are not bad enough to stop him turning out for Canberra each week) and focus on his Queensland prospects and possibly an Australian call up. Listening to Mal Meninga and Tim Sheens talk, it’s a distinct possibility. Or none of it could happen (just a few proven players like Slater and Inglis in front of him) and he could miss out on potentially Toa Samoa’s finest hour. It’s a gamble with a big carrot dangled out in front of him.  Possible Origin selection vs being a match winner for the country he already has a few Test caps for.

But there also exists the scenario whereby Milford plays for Samoa next month, renounces his Samoan allegiance, plays for Queensland and then in October plays for Australia against Samoa. Because that’s what rugby league really needs to be credible.

Seriously RILF, sort this sh*t out! League takes a lambasting every four years with our eligibility rules for the World Cup, but then we go and have a ‘re-set’ rule which accentuates the shambles.

Players should be indicating their country or state of allegiance when their playing contract is registered as an under 20.  The RLIF should then be providing an international test calendar which allows counties to select their players at least once a year.  When there is doubt, the minow nation should have first ‘dibs’ (it’s not like Samoa has the same talent pool as Australia), not the other way around.

Until the RLIF addresses this, and the NRL surrenders its iron fisted rule of the game internationally, then rugby league will continue to languish behind the other, more credible, international codes.

A moment of madness, a lifetime of regret

Tonight is a big night for rugby league.

Rugby_League_Central_3The events of ten days ago are still echoing around rugby league, if not all contact sports in Australia.  At the centre is a young rugby league player with his playing future, and potentially his way of life, cut short whilst in his prime.

While Alex McKinnon remains in hospital in Melbourne, still not able to be transferred to Sydney, rugby league officialdom convenes in Sydney to cast judgement over the two seconds of rugby league that has wrought such devastation on Alex and his family.

The Newcastle Knights, and the league community in general have fallen in step to show concern and support for Alex and his family.  But a thought must also be spared for the other player in this matter, Jordan McLean. The 22 year old was stood down over the weekend, not because of any finding of guilt, but in consideration of the gravity of the situation – his actions have contributed to an horrific injury to another.

No one has suggested that Jordan, or any other league player for that matter, goes onto the field to cause grievous harm to another player.  The aim of a forward is to intimidate, dominate and reciprocate the big hits that make the rugby league highlight reels.  Putting someone in a hospital bed, let alone a wheelchair, is not in the mind of any professional player.

Jordan McLean is guilty, and indeed has been found guilty of a dangerous throw.  That was always going to be the case.  As the player who placed his hands between the legs of another player and lifted, he is the one who bears the burden of the end results, despite the fact that the individual split-second actions of three other players (McKinnon included) contributed to the end result. But what should the penalty be?

Rugby league commentators have called for a calm and clear decision, not one based on the hyperbole that comes with serious injuries.  It is an age old question in rugby league – should the penalty fit the seriousness of the injury caused?

Not that consistency is anything the NRL judiciary could find with a map and guide, but the decision to be made tonight on McLean’s penalty will be keenly watched. A precedent will be set, and league players should have cause to be concerned.

League officials will have many things to take into consideration: the grading of the dangerous throw, the contribution of other players, and the actions of the tackled player etc. But it will also take into consideration the perceptions of the ‘footy mums’ – the people who apparently decide whether or not the kiddies get to play rugby league.

We have had all sorts of talking heads come out of the woodwork this week encouraging mums to take their kids out of rugby league.  ‘It’s too dangerous’, ‘more has to be done’, ‘the tackle must be outlawed’ and ‘you can’t have that many players in a tackle.’  I get to consider myself a footy mum these days (if you count Munchkin League for the under 5s).

I may be biased about my footy.  But my response is:

a. Riding a bike is dangerous, more kids have been killed riding a bike than playing rugby league.  My daughter’s first broken arm came from playing on a chair, not playing footy.

b. Kids do not play the same game with the same rules as NRL players, and they certainly do not run at the same speed or hit each other with the same physicality.  But more could be done – I’m all for weight divisions, even if it means my kids will be playing against older kids.

c. As far as I’m aware placing your hands between another players’ legs and lifting has been outlawed. Any tackle where a player is lifted above the horizontal automatically results in a penalty and players on report, if not a sin-bin/send off.

d. Limiting the number of players who can be involved in a tackle is an option, but should not be a knee jerk reaction. Any such change will greatly affect the fabric of a game that many already judge to be losing its edge.

What occurred in the Melbourne vs Newcastle match was a freak accident.  It was not pre-meditated, nor was it the intent of any player to arrive at that outcome. I sincerely hope that the judiciary takes that into account.

image.scale.thumbnail.200.300[1]Whilst the playing future of Alex McKinnon is sadly over, the fate of Jordan McLean is less clear.  His playing career will forever have the footnote of that tackle – a 2 second stain on his career – should he even have the courage to continue. Even if the penalty he receives is moderate and he takes the field again, will he ever play the same?

Let’s not end the playing career of two young forwards.

 

How much is too much?

Here we are at the end of February and Ivan Cleary has already called it - the season is too long. There are too many games and the season goes too long.

This is nothing new in league, but this is probably the earliest I’ve heard it. Usually it rears its head after the Origin series.

With the addition of the Nines to the beginning of the season and another Four Nations tournament at the end of it, Cleary argues that we are playing too many internationals, and it’s asking too much of our elite players.

And you know what? I agree with him.

Now pick your jaw up from the floor. Yes, I, the avowed internationalist agrees we are playing too many international matches. But just have a look at that statement. While Cleary thinks the emphasis there is on the words ‘too many’, I would place the emphasis on ‘we’. We are playing too many international matches. I think there can never be enough internationals played, but Australia is playing too many international matches.

Since 2008 the Australian Kangaroos have played in an international series (ie more than a one off test match) at the end of every season bar 2012, in which they played New Zealand in Townsville.  Those Kangaroos have got to be getting tired.

I remember when an international tournament held an allure.  Whether that be the Kangaroo Tour in the UK, or the Great Britain team heading to our shores, these were highly anticipated throughout the year.  They dominated talks.  Now a Kangaroo Test Match series at the end of the season is expected, and let’s face it, an after though. A postscript to the end of the season. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure each and every player who pulls on that jersey is proud as punch.  Just tired as well.

It seems simple to me - when there is an over supply, demand is not high.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more international matches, but the rugby league world would be better served not revolving around Australia.  Hell, it might even improve.  It might actually give other countries a chance to select up and coming NRL players before they get tempted by the green and gold or black and white.

samoa fijiSome of the Pacific Island countries may actually get a chance to snare future stars of the game, but only if there is an international calendar which also points to future Test Matches. There’s a Test Match being played in Sydney in May which I’d be keen to see, and it’s not Australia vs New Zealand (although I believe the Kiwis may carry the World Cup Final drubbing on their shoulders into that match).  Samoa v Fiji, one of the more entertaining Quarter Finals of the 2013 World Cup will get a replay out at Penrith the night after the ANZAC Test.  Without the Super League players in attendance, quite a few NRL youngsters will get a chance to play in a Test Match for the first time, hopefully starting a long and distinguished career for their country.

Please, please, please let this match be televised and let Vossy be calling it.

The [Burgess] Blues Brothers

So Sam Burgess is off to Bath.  And then maybe onto the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

I am in two minds about this.  There’s a part of me that thinks this is a win for the game of Rugby League – the fact that a world class league player can sidle over to another sport and carry on, hardly missing a beat.  Then there’s the more obvious side of the equation that says yet another player is lost to league by the cashed up and more cosmopolitan rugby union game.  However, I still do manage to feel a bit chuffed that no world class rugby union player has been able to cross over to league and continue to make a name for themselves.  (And before you throw Ricky Stuart at me, I don’t consider his rugby union career as world class.)

Now the Burgess defection throws up a number of issues – players breaking contracts; marquee player status; transfer deals; and behemoth that is the Rugby World Cup.  But the one thing it doesn’t have anything to do with is State of Origin.  ‘Til Rusty piped up.

Russell Crowe, having his two cents, has revealed that Sam Burgess might have stayed if he had been allowed to play for the Blues in State of Origin. Now I think Rusty is entitled to have his opinion here – he is the owner of Souths and he is the man responsible for luring the Burgess Brothers to Australia, but he is wrong.

Not just that, he’s out of his mind. The State of Origin concept does not need additional players injected, whether they be Sam Burgess or Sonny Bill.

The elephant in the room here is the fact that Rugby Union has an allure that Rugby League does not, and that is a truly international profile.  Yes, there’s money. But that money comes from an international corporate profile.

So State of Origin does come into this.  For some reason, an interstate clash between two Australian states is the pinnacle of our game throughout all league playing nations. Not test matches or international tournaments.  We have a club level tribalism that rugby union covets, and they have an international profile that we covet.

This will continue.  There will be more players heading to rugby union in England, Europe and Japan, unless league administrators pull their fingers out. And maybe instead of bleating, Rusty and Co could be helpful.  There is talk of a Super League mid-season international for England to play the Celtic Nations (Ireland, Scotland and Wales).  A chance to capitalise on the successful RLWC2013 and be a legitimate selection match for a Great Britain side. What are the chances that Russell Crowe et al will release the Burgess boys  to play in that?

Zero. Zip. Buckleys.

The only way league can compete with union is to take its international league game to the next level.  It won’t happen immediately.  It took State of Origin decades to get to where it is.  But the work must start now.

And the winner is….

The Rugby League International Federation has just announced that Australia and New Zealand will be joint hosts of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. South Africa was the other bidder, but somehow I don’t think it was too much of a contest.  The RLWC2013 should certainly be considered a success if you compare it to previous tournaments, specifically the 1995 and 2000 attempts.  So in 2017 it comes back to Australia, who successfully hosted the 10 nation 2008 World Cup.

Given that the winner was just announced it is fair to assume that no solid plans have been developed (especially considering we still don’t have solid dates for the internationals held in Australia later this year), however chickatthefooty would like to provide a report card on the 2013 World Cup to help the 2017 organisers can ponder on some lessons learnt.

Report Card: General

The 2013 Rugby League World Cup brought us five weeks of international footy action across four countries.  I had planned on seeing 15 matches in three weeks in three countries, I ended up with nine matches in five weeks in two countries. Not too shabby considering other events.  I’ve had the privilege to now watch several matches for the past two World Cups and I thought I would give the chickatthefooty’s impressions on this most recent World Cup.

1.  Rugby league fans: A

Rugby league fans in the north of England deserve a medal.  I know it’s a game normally played in the summer there now, but for the crowds to turn up like they did in October/November, in the conditions that prevailed was fantastic.  Not that the conditions were particularly bad, just normal I’m gathering, but as an Australian I was impressed by the temperatures they were prepared to endure to watch the matches.

2. England vs New Zealand Semi-Final: A+

In my initial itinerary I was not even going to be in the country for the double header at Wembley, but I’m glad I got the chance to see this match.  Now I personally had no allegiance either way with this match so I was surprised how this match drew me in.  I had well and truly predicted in advance that it would be a New Zealand/Australia final at Old Trafford, but I had a soft spot for the hosts.  In a country where league is well and truly down the pecking order (using a magnifying glass to find stories about it in the national papers), England making the final would have been a boon for the game.  England, and the Wembley crowd, sucked me in for this game.  The crowd took a while to warm up, but once the home team took the lead they came into their own.  By the last twenty minutes I was on my feet like the rest and I have to say I was genuinely disappointed for the team and the crowd when they were pipped at the post.  Admittedly I didn’t feel the anguish that the rest of the crowd did, but I knew how they felt.  Australians watching the 2008 World Cup Final felt it.

3. The Stadiums: C

IMG_1867In many cases, standing room only.  Maybe I’m spoilt when it comes to rugby league stadiums.  Suncorp Stadium, in my backyard, is probably the best rugby league stadium in the world, and in terms of viewing and facilities Skilled Park on the Gold Coast is not too far behind.  But I don’t know of too many stadiums in Australia where half the stadium is standing only.  Not a hill for sitting (ala Brookevale), but terraces for standing.  I then can’t imagine those terraces being full, and people paying $30 for the privilege of standing for an entire match. Again, it’s a credit to the fans that they would fork out that much to watch two teams from the southern hemisphere. Now don’t get me wrong, Wembley is an awesome stadium, but even as a double header, it wasn’t going to be a sell out as a semi-final.  The final maybe, if England was competing. But there was a bit of grumbling that it was too far from the league heartland in the north.

4. Stadium Management: C

imageOpportunities lost.  I know stadium hire arrangements are different for different matches, even in Australia.  But it did strike me as odd that in some stadiums I couldn’t buy any merchandise once I was in the stadium.  No programmes, no World Cup merch.  Nothing.  Silly me thinking I would pick something up once inside the stadium.  Only food was available inside, and even then, that was not guaranteed.  To find that not one single scrap of food was available in the seated half of the Halliwell Jones Stadium at Warrington right on kick off was unbelievable.  Considering the sold out sign went up hours before kick off, it doesn’t take much of a buisnessman/catering manager to know that for a 6PM kick off you might need some food for the masses.

5. Merchandise: B-

Opportunities lost 2.  And another thing on merchandise, the range was quite limited, if actually available.  I spoke to a number of people who had wanted to purchase jerseys for quite a few teams playing in the tournament only to find that the merch vans (only available outside the venue, not inside) did not even sell the team jerseys.  This was disappointing as an Aussie who had come to make out like a bandit buying up jerseys for 50 pound ($90) when the same items are being sold in Aus for $150 before the tournament.  The USA jersey was quite popular and yet was not on sale at any of the USA games I went to.

6. Pool Matches: B+

Credit goes to some exciting pool games.  The pool games are what I came to see.  Not the lopsided games that the big three played, but the battle of the minnows.  This was where the upsets occurred and the international rankings were affected – Italy beating Wales, France edging out PNG and Scotland beating the previously undefeated USA (the team compositions is a topic for a later post).

7. Entertainment: C+

imagePre match entertainment.  When will [[gby league get this right?  I know there’s a school of thought that by providing a selection of entertainers outside the tastes of the general league going public that you are trying to expand league’s exposure.  But a World Cup is not the time or place.  The opening ceremony featured a harp player and a string group and some Dancing with the Stars ‘talent’.  Now I may be passionate about league, and also played a stringed instrument back in the day, but that is not the average league punter.  More people in the crowd got up and danced and sang when Tom Jones was played over the PA.  A rugby league match may not sell out Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (and it appears double header featuring England and Wales still won’t do it), pay the $$ and get the real Tom Jones.  That would have put more bums on seats and garnered some big exposure.

Mascots. Also, on behalf of a friend, more playing nation mascots please.  Seems a bit sad that only England and USA got in on the mascot party, Grubber and Steed aside.

8. Curtain Raisers: Not submitted.

Folks back in Australia probably wouldn’t have noticed on the broadcast, but there were no earlier games.  When you paid your 20 or 50 quid, you got one game.  I know the season here had ended, but surely there would have been some rep teams or local team, or anyone, who could have put on a curtain raiser.  I think there was a lost opportunity to invite some of the developing nations to put on exhibition matches.  I know there are costs involved, but if this World Cup was about expanding the international game, it would’ve worth it.

Final Grade: B-

Overall I got the feeling that this was a cautious World Cup – one burnt by the experiences of 1995 and 2000.  It was a gamble having an extra 4 teams, but I think it paid off.  Onwards and upwards for 2017 I say (noting that my youngest owes me a World Cup tournament). The South Africa bid was encouraging if not overly ambitious (I think making a World Cup would be a good first step), but there will be bigger expectations of the next World Cup.

What improvements would you like to see for the next World Cup?

Smells like footy season…

It’s here!  It’s almost here!

A few minor trial matches and a WCC warm up match aside, footy season down under is almost here. This weekend we kick off with the inaugural Auckland Nines competition.  It is shaping up to be a try-fest over two days.  League purists will probably run for the hills, but for those who thrive on promo packages of sensational side stepping and miracle acrobatic tries, it’s a gift from the rugby league gods.  Not really sure about the trophy though – it looks like something the Mambo dog would throw up.

Unlike previous sevens and nines competitions run in the pre-season, this is just for the NRL clubs.  But it is clear that the serious prize money on offer (AU$370,000) has not been incentive enough for all clubs to take it seriously, but good luck to those that do.

I went to the last official pre-season competition at the SFS in 2004 for a ‘World’ Sevens tournament taken out by the Wests Tigers. Teams like the Tigers and Souths competed against Russia, Samoa and England.  It had started to become a regular fixture on the calendar and clubs were able to opt in for the tournament, but after few serious injuries were sustained by big money players, NRL clubs became reluctant to continue their involvement and a 2005 tournament did not get the necessary NRL talent to make it viable at that level.

Since then it’s been up to  Cabramatta, and occasionally  Orara Valley (re Russell Crowe’s place), to pick up the international pre-season slack.  The Cabramatta nines is a cornerstone event for developing, and albeit predominantly Australian, international teams to come together and gain momentum.  This is where the Lebanese team, now perennial contenders for World Cup spots, first made their mark on the international footy scene.

The last large scale nines comp was the Superleague international nines competition held in Fiji to herald the start of the 1996 Superleague season that never happened.  The 16 teams that competed were the same as those that most recently contested the RLWC 2013 ( Morocco and Japan excluded).  The 1997 comp held in Townsville featured only 12 teams with a combined Great Britain side and heralded South Africa’s international rugby league debut.  Both comps were won by New Zealand with Australia not even featuring in either final.  Furthermore, the smaller nations were actually filled with players from those nations – Australians were not a feature of the USA or Fiji teams that competed those years.

There is a place for the shortened game in the league season, but I will be interested to see how long the Auckland Nines, made entirely of NRL clubs, lasts in its current format – although it has been funded through to 2018.  Clubs have the right to be hesitant putting their best players into a pre-season comp when their eyes are on the October prize.  The fact that rules had to be put in place ensuring that clubs fielded top calibre players shows how seriously the NRL is taking this, but also acknowledges that many clubs would opt out if possible.

Being the internationalist that I am, I would like to see an international flavour return to the pre-season, considering some of the pacific countries have been traditionally more suited to the abbreviated game.  Perhaps an invitation can also be extended to the winning QRL and NSWRL teams and give it a type of Challenge Cup feel to it.

But I am looking forward to the Nines.  It really is an unknown as to how each club will go considering the changes that have occurred in the way players and clubs now play the game since the last major Nines tournament in 1997.  Many clubs have opted for some of their big boppers to take the field, gambling that their size will not be much of a factor in the nine minutes halves.

Who is your tip for the Auckland Nines?

…making other plans

It has been three weeks since I last wrote a footy blog.  Almost to the minute. And so I find myself in some of the same circumstances in which I last came to blog.

It’s almost midnight on a Sunday night and I have returned from an evening in Warrington watching Samoa battle valiantly on the pitch.  I am propped up in bed, tapping away at my iPad, hoping to keep peeps updated on the days events.

Except this is not how I planned to spend this Sunday evening.  In the world of my plans I was meant to be on a plane right about now: my World Cup travels completed and winging my way home to join my family and return to the grindstone.

It has been said many times before, but life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.  Ironically, it’s probably best known through John Lennon’s song, ‘Beautiful Boy’.

My life has been altered irrevocably on this footy trip.  Indeed, this has been a footy trip with very little footy (well, compared to what my original itinerary had).  Footy has become a side note to my days and I have undergone a radical perspective change.

image I do apologise for the followers of this blog (all 15 of you) who were expecting regular footy updates.  I actually created this blog at the beginning of the year with the express purpose of preparing for this trip – to give daily updates on my thoughts and musings on what shaped to be a pretty spectacular league World Cup.  That was the plan.  For those who came in late, just read my previous post to bring you up to speed.

My daily posts are now restricted to Facebook updates on my personal profile to keep family and friends up to date on our/my daily struggles as we live day to day in the neo-natal unit.  My posts are nearly always late at night and done through a veil of exhaustion.  I’ve usually had the day to think about what the days update will contain.  I’ve mulled the composition over and thought about whether to include some levity in with the commentary.  By the end of the day what we’ve gone through has had time to sink in, for some of the initial angst and worry to wear off, some of the pain to dull.  And in the early days there were some pretty good pain killers.

But for the most part I don’t want to do it.  I don’t want to post updates.  I don’t want to come home from the hospital, I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning and I don’t want to open my eyes.  I don’t want to do any of this any more.  I’m exhausted.  It doesn’t matter how much sleep I’ve had.  My eyes are always sore.

I know that I need to keep things in perspective.  I know we’re not the only family in the world to go through the day being hypnotised by hospital monitors.  I’m guessing over three quarters of the planet would be grateful for the access to the medical facilities that I am taking for granted.  I’ve personally met new mums in third world remote villages who were thankful for ice we gave them as their only means of pain relief.  Perspective.  I could use it right about now.

imageIf only I could go home and have to remember it’s bin night, that my daughter demanded I have a tea party with her, that I had to slump off to bed early because I have to work tomorrow.  But I can’t.  I’m on the other side of the world, with no semblance of normality.  My reality is my own little world sitting beside an incubator.  I know there are people worse off than me, but they don’t occupy my world.

#TeamRonan

imageI am trying to use footy as a means to bring some normality back to what I’m doing.  Footy and footy players is what I know.  I know how to get behind and barrack for a team. I know how to support a cause.  This time the cause is closer to home and my team is a bit too small to kick a footy.

I’m backing #TeamRonan.  So todays update (Day 20) is in the style of a match report.

“It was a tough day on the pitch for #TeamRonan, with previous poor form casting a shadow over the days expected proceedings.  After some pretty impressive first up performances #TeamRonan has seen a slide down the ladder, which the captain was hoping to arrest with a strong appearance going into week 3.  Todays start does not inspire confidence.  With the match barely underway, the officials let slip with speculation of a heart murmor.   When the adjudicator was called in to give expert analysis she stated that #TeamRonan was retaining too much water and that the cause was either a faulty valve in the heart or a chronic lung condition.  Neither of these options have instilled the coach with confidence, however further tests in upcoming days should provide answers for #TeamRonan supporters.   Whilst it doesn’t appear that #TeamRonan will be surging ahead anytime soon, the coach will be hoping to curtail any further slides.”

imageSome days I don’t want to get out of bed.  I’m exhausted just thinking about tomorrow.

Day 3 – Unexpected Results

I came to England to be part of the Rugby League World Cup 2013.  Not only was I going to follow the tournament around and see as many games and support as many teams as I could, but I had also come to help make this a great showpiece of rugby league in any way I could.

I love my game, the greatest game of all, and I want the world to see that as well.

So earlier this year I answered the call for volunteers to assist with the running of the RLWC.  Obviously it was a bit difficult to come from the other side of the world to help out, but the volunteer organisers have been very helpful in making sure I could be part of the action.

A couple of weeks ago I was allocated the ‘shifts’ I would be volunteering at, and Day Three – Fiji vs Ireland played up at Rochdale was my first match.

When Monday morning came I was quite excited.  A morning of sightseeing in Chester and then onto Rochdale to help people get into the rugby league mood and enjoy the game.  This is what the trip was all about.

Maybe I was little too excited.  Who knows.

But around about the time I should have been getting into the car to head up to Rochdale, I was instead knee deep in the bowels of the Countess of Chester hospital, getting a spinal tap and having an emergency c-section.

I was going to bring home some cheap rugby league international jerseys, instead I will be bringing home a rather impatient little boy.  What was going to be a four week holiday is now an open ended booking as we watch and wait to see how our three month premmie baby progresses.  Do your holiday plans sometimes go to poo?

image

Do you reckon they could do these colours in maroon?

It goes without saying that if this turn of events had been anything like a remote possibility I would not have lugged myself all the way here.  Having said that I don’t believe that being pregnant means you need to be wrapped in cotton wool.

Ahh, the best laid plans of mice and (wee, little, tiny, premature) men.

Day Two – Ooooh-aaa Samoa

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Day two of the RLWC brought a bit more of what I had hoped to see at a World Cup in this part of the world.  And a few things I can only hope were teething problems for this tournament.

Day two saw two matches in two locations – France vs PNG in Hull and New Zealand vs Samoa in Warrington.  The games were timed after each other so we could only attend one.  Whilst I would have loved to have seen France play in the pool games, Warrington is much closer to chickatthefooty base camp in Chester.  That and we were still recovering from the eight hour return trip from Cardiff the previous day.

Warrington is rugby league heartland in northern England, home of the Warrington Wire, err, Wolves.  The fact that the game was pretty much a sell out when no local players were on show was a testament to the league loving town.  Even more astounding is that half the stadium is standing terraces only, and that the punters in Warrington were happy to pay 20 pound to stand up to watch the game.  I had originally picked up standing terrace seats but managed to upgrade them for a front row seat on the 40m line.  Winning !

We caught up with some local Wolves fans who introduced us to their local, the place they always congregate before walking up to Halliwell Jones Stadium for the Warrington games.  This was not the average pub that people catch up at before a game, this is a pub dedicated to the local team and their fans.  The walls resembled a standing tribute to anyone who had ever pulled on the Warrington jersey.  This was not the place of the fancy, expensive limited edition prints and memorabilia which most Sports Bars are happy to show off, this was more of a teenage fans’ bedroom walls.  The walls were lined with magazine cuttings and newspaper clippings.  The outdoor area out the back had been painted by the fans in blue and yellow and they had nominated their own favourite 13 players.  Other players of note also had their names painted around the exterior walls.  Apparently Joey Johns’ one year here was enough to have him named in the top 13.  I’ll try not to hold that against the fans here.

The pub gave us the opportunity to speak to the locals about their thoughts on the RLWC and watch the France v PNG game.  And boy, what a close game that was.  The handling errors weren’t much to write home about, but it did come complete with a pressure kick for David Mead to kick for a win.  In front of the posts.  Alas, it was not the young Titans night, and the French scraped in with a 9-8 victory over the Kumuls.

Back at Halliwell Jones Stadium it was the Sonny Bill Williams show.  The loudest cheer amongst the crowd was for the confused rugby union/league/boxer as he took the field (this would take a dramatic turn during the course of the game).  National anthems aside, it was time for the real warm up – the hakas.  When did NZ change theirs?  It used to be a real spectacle to watch.  The Samoan haka was far more impressive and appeared to have more feeling behind it.

Once kick off was underway, the Kiwis didn’t take too long to demonstrate their class.  By the time I had wandered off to find some grub and come back empty handed because the entire stadium had sold out of hot food by kick off, NZ were in front 16-0.  Samoa could have given up at this stage, but they fought on and managed to score some points before half time.  The never give up attitude of Toa Samoa got the crowd onside with amazing results.

Before the game the crowd support would have been 50/50.  But cheering on the underdog is way more fun and the the crowd got into it.  With some more possession and the crowd chanting Oooooh-aaa Samoa throughout the second half, the tries started to come.  Suddenly Samoa were within a few converted tries (would have been closer if Milford had packed his kicking boots).  With the crowd booing decisions made against the Samoans, the crowd favourites had clearly swung towards Toa to the tune of 80/20.

Then came the unthinkable (well maybe if you’re the channel 9 commentary team), Sonny Bill proved that he is only human with the most basic of scoring errors – failing to ground the ball before reaching the dead ball line.  Check it out if you haven’t already.  The crowd thought this was amazing, considering how much they feted him onto the ground.  The chant of ‘Who are ya?’ started up in earnest.

The Samoan mini comeback, whilst well supported by the crowd, did not go the distance and the Kiwis soon turned the skills back on.

Three things I learnt from this game – 1. The Kiwis start strong but still can’t put an 80 minutes performance on the field.  2. Samoa will do well in the pool if they can play with self belief. 3. Get hot food early or starve at these stadiums.