By STEVE MASCORD
THE opening game of the 1995 World Cup – the one against which all since have been measured – attracted 41,271 fans to Wembley.
OK, that was only one game – between Australia and England. But there are signs that next Saturday’s opening double header, which tacks on Wales v Italy to the same fixture, at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, will draw more.
That’s what organisers are saying, anyway.
The reason England are playing Australia on “neutral” ground are straightforward: there is no need to over-burden the London market ahead of the semi-final double-header at Wembley on November 23 and fans from the north have supported an entire Super League round being played in Cardiff in the past.
If the prices of accommodation are anything to go by, the city is just about sold out. There are still rooms at the Park Plaza and the Hilton if you’ve left it late – for $493 or $525 a pop.
But the key opportunity that awaits rugby league over the next seven weeks is to finally establish the brands of the national teams and wash away residual cynicism, particularly in Australia where the money is.
These teams, boasting recognisable faces, will be on television and on news bulletins, for five days straight, then after a 24-hour break, another five days straight and then the same again.
While sponsoring an NRL team might be beyond many businesses, the idea of getting behind a national side should begin to take seed in the minds of potential backers and media companies if the events are well run and there aren’t too many blow-outs.
These are teams with millions of dollars worth of NRL and Super League talent that are commercially under-resourced, almost pristine; big billboards waiting to be filled, television properties available to be sold who would play more games between World Cups if people would fund them.
It seems like rugby league has been put in the clear with the line open. But just watch those tufts of grass jump out of the ground and pull off the shoulder charges between now and November 30.
WITH the NRL announcing it will hand most of its $1.025 billion in TV money to the clubs and the state leagues, it leaves a lot of room for disappointment.
Of all the interest groups who have been trying to get the commission’s attention, it strikes Sin Bin that the Pacific Islands can return the richest reward for the smallest outlay.
There is already so much goodwill there and connections with the NRL that run deep. Not only was Mal Meninga’s brother Geoff on hand at the Vanuatu-Niue game on Saturday but Mark Gasnier’s dad, John, was on the Niue medical staff.
It was amazing to hear 20-year-old Joey Meninga stand in the middle of the Municipal Stadium and recount how his great, great grandfather was taken away from Tanna Island to work on sugar plantations in Queensland.
He married an Irishwoman, so he was allowed to stay. That’s how Australia got one of its greatest ever players, Joey’s uncle Mal.
Surely it’s time we gave something back.
THE Asia Cup was to be a three-team tournament, being played around now at Clark in the Philippines.
Instead, following the withdrawal of Japan, Thailand will just play the hosts at San Narciso on Monday October 21.
But Philippines coach Clayton Watene had some unexpected duties to perform this week with the typhoon on Cebu.
His in-laws’ house was badly damaged and he travelled to the island to help with the clean-up. Despite switching to Japanese rugby union, South Sydney winger Andrew Everingham will make his debut for the Tamaraws.
OK, another game played last weekend which has not received a lot of publicity saw Fiji Bati score a 50-12 win over Fiji Residents in Nadi, with Wests Tigers winger Marika Koroibete posting a hat-trick.
On Tuesday night, Wales beat a Welsh Select 62-12 at Colwyn Bay.
This weekend’s World Cup warm-up games pit England against Italy at Salford, New Zealand against Cook Islands at Doncaster, France v United States in Toulouse, Fiji against Rochdale in Rochdale and Scotland plays Papua New Guinea at Featherstone.
Also on Friday night, South Africa – who are bidding to host the 2017 World Cup – plays NSW Country at Brakpan, near Johnannesburg.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD