It’s been a good few years in the making but at last we have some substantial international rugby league action to sink our teeth into.
And I never thought I would say this but this year’s home grown world cup is shaping up to be an exciting prospect. But is this just wishful thinking?
The view of many is that it’s going to flop like a wet fish.
From day one of its announcement, the competition has been under relentless scrutiny. The critics have been ever pressing, right up until the very moment England faced the goliath task of slaying the Aussies.
Myself, like many others, shared the variety of negative views and questioned the controversy that surrounds the England and Wales world cup and from our point of view, the England team.
The ever present rugby league patriot will say stop being so negative and embrace what could be a good tournament to promote our game, in which many would be willing to accept in the spirit of support for our home nation.
The problem is, weathered rugby fans will be well aware that England and the whole international game for that matter, has been riddled with torment. Deep down we all know that international rugby league has very little structural integrity in comparison to many other international sports who by far supersede our efforts.
Questions such as; will we draw in the crowds, how will teams such as USA shape up against teams like Australia and New Zealand, (should they even get the chance), is there only two teams in it and will anyone other than our relatively small rugby league community even blink an eyelid at the tournament’s showcase?
Then there is the question about England themselves. We all want to believe that England have got it in them to win it. Moreover the RFL and surrounding teams are determined to convince us that England have got what it takes. The ideology that we have the greatest wealth of talent in years has been practically drilled into us.
However just as we all start to fall for the hype, hook line and sinker (as we always do), England already unveil the cracks in the wall as they fail to produce the goods against a very average looking Italy side, right on the brink of the tournament.
To add further insult, poor discipline left us with a concerning 7 of our best players left out of the squad just days before our biggest game in years, thus leading to a very questionable side selection. Given the sheer amount of criticism, even anger some might argue, this point needs no further elaboration.
So again it all looks like doom and gloom. But for once I don’t truly believe this is the case.
It looks to me that the RFL have actually produced the goods in terms of their promotion and organisation of this tournament. True there are mixed feelings about some of the venues, particularly some of the larger and southern ones, but I can’t help but feel that there is a fine balance between the venues and their corresponding fixture. The most successful reflections of this would have to be the England and Ireland fixture at Huddersfield- who would have thought that would sell out? And pretty much all of New Zealand’s fixtures seem to have sold very well indeed. It’s evident that they are going to have a great following here.
Additionally it’s quite promising to see how many icons outside of the game have been utilised in its promotion. It’s great to see the likes of Wayne Rooney, Andrew Flintoff and even David Cameron all adding to its advertisement (even if the prime minister’s intentions may have politically constructed),but that’s a whole other debate in itself.
So the Cardiff opener unfolded with all of these issues pertinent in people’s minds. And this looked to be reflected by a tense and rather reserved gathering. However as the day’s events progressed the nation was blessed with some truly stunning Rugby league football. At times, the occasion even had the feel of its counterpart code’s four nations. Perhaps this may have just been down to the highly union based venue.
The way I see it, the crowd was reasonable (for both games) and all the teams put on a show, even England who silenced the critics, despite narrowly being defeated by their world class rivals from down under. A vocal nature of the Wales fans was also great to hear. What was even more exciting to see however, was the presence of a relatively unheard of Italy side. They shocked us right on the verge of the tournament start and then they put one over a quickly developing wales side who were very much geared up on their home turf. For me that is what a world cup should be about; watching teams from far-away places displaying unforeseen talents.
It is still far too early to see how the competition will perform in many respects. And true it may have been a nervous start… but it most certainly wasn’t a disappointing one. Now with a good month left of action left, who knows what twists and turns such a unique tournament will have in store.
I for one am very optimistic and excited to find out.