WELCOME TO 2013.
When you think of the year ahead, what image invades your mind’s eye? Sonny Bill Williams NOT pulling off massive shoulder charges? Maybe it’s watching a game live on
your ipad. Or it’s Thursday night football? Or two Origins in Sydney?
No doubt about it, these are exciting times for our game – in Australia at least, and notwithstanding Nathan Tinkler’s financial woes.
In the pages of this pre-season special of Rugby League Week, you’ll read interviews and see pictures that give you hope for your team this season. It’s a great achievement of the NRL that no-one can call you deluded; uncertainty of results has been a constant since 1997.
But I’d be willing to bet that for many of our readers, the World Cup is a fair way down the list in terms of anticipation – and we must be one of the only sports in the world for which that is the case.
From the peak of club competition with the English Premier League to the likes of semi-amateur sports like field hockey, a World Cup year is something to savour. Maybe
only American basketball fans can come near to the rugby league supporters of Australia in caring more about who gets picked in their team than what happens at the actual tournament.
American dominance of basketball is a rough approximation of Australia’s rule over the rugby league world – so that’s not a co-incidence. What’s that you say, Australia are not actually the World Cup holders?
Then doesn’t that mean we should be more interested in the 14th World Cup (second oldest in world sport) than we are? I’m not here to tell you that you must care more about RLWC 2013 than you do. It’s the job of the game’s administration to make you care.
But here’s what I’m excited about this year – and I’ll admit some of them are a bit left of centre and most involve a trip to the airport:
* February 1: The kick-off of (arguably) the longest season ever. Salford (if they’re still around) play Wigan and Leeds play Hull. I’ll be at Headingley, where I’m betting it’ll be a “summer comp” in name only;
* February 22: The World Club Challenge – Leeds v Melbourne – and hopefully the last one in the current format before we go to a six-team tournament at the start or end of next year;
* March 7-11: The first round of the NRL, obviously. But Melbourne v St George Illawarra? Grudge match!;
* March 16: Have they really moved Warriors-Sydney Roosters to Eden Park because of ONE PLAYER?;
* April 19-21: The rep weekend, with the Test in Canberra and City-Country in Coffs Harbour. Two questions: how long is the drive from the ACT to the north coast and can I stay up there a few days?;
* May 11: We’re back at Wundy Wullington in the Caketun for the Bulldogs v The Warriors. Choice, bro!
* May 25-26: Magic Weekend at Etihad Stadium in Manchester. This concept was on its knees but was miraculously revived in 2012. Beer and sun will do that;
* June 5: If the Blues win Origin I, they’re in the box seat with two home games;
* June 16: Top flight footy returns to Cairns when South Sydney take on Gold Coast. I still haven’t been out to the reef. The following weekend, SBW plays away to the Bulldogs;
* July 5-7: Melbourne, Darwin, Perth and Mackay in one weekend! Before you ask, no it is not possible to get to all four. Three, yes;
* August 24: Challenge Cup final, Wembley. More Australians and Kiwis should make this pilgrimage, regardless of who’s playing. It’s like renewing your vows in your marriage to rugby league;
* October 6: Super League and NRL grand finals, Bummer – can’t go to both! What whacky entertainment will they come up with next?;
* October 26: Australia takes on England and Wales play Italy in a double header at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to kick off the World Cup. Craig Gower, Terry Campese, the Minichiellos, Anthony Laffranchi and others could make it bad afternoon for the Dragons;
* October 27: New Zealand v Samoa at Warrington. You’ll feel the hits in Brisbane;
* October 28: Fiji v Ireland at Rochdale. Will Petero Civoniceva, Lote Tuqiri, the Sims brothers and Jarryd Hayne suit up for the Bati?;
* November 3: The United States makes its World Cup debut, more than 60 years after we first tried to start the game there, against Wales in Wrexham;
* November 23: Both World Cup semi-finals in the same place, at the same time and what a place – Wembley Stadium;
* November 30: Can England qualify for the final at the Theatre of Dreams, Old Trafford? The end of one of the greatest rugby league seasons ever … hopefully.
I don’t know about you but when a season is over I can often remember more about trial matches than finals. It’s because, by the end of September, your attention span has shrunk in the face of so many tries, tackles and controversies.
So rest up this month. Try to contain your excitement. Think of something else occasionally. Pace yourself.
There’s a long year ahead.
Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK