By STEVE MASCORD
GIVEN that this is the October edition of Bondi Beat, it would be rude not to lead on a little competition which, our sources tell us, will be played in England, Wales, Ireland and France at the end of the month.
The messages about the World Cup so far this year have been somewhat mixed. On one hand, we’re told ticket sales have been good – particularly for the final. The TV deals seem pretty sensible and there have been some good promotions, notably in Trafalgar Square the day before the Challenge Cup final.
On the other hand, as I type this we still have no sponsor, ticket sales to some of the matches appear to be an abject mystery and a high profile player seems to drop out each week, be it through a defection to rugby union, an injury or a preference for professional boxing.
But we’re all still keen, aren’t we? It’s the second-oldest World Cup in any sport, we repeatedly tell the doubters. And Aussie fans on the piss in Limerick ….who’s miss that?
This is an era of lists. People who run websites only need to put: “Six reasons why jockstraps are better than undies” on Twitter or Facebook and the readers come flooding in.
So, in no particular order, here is Bondi Beat’s Five World Cup Predictions That Probably Won’t Come True:
1. ENGLAND TO WIN OPENER AGAINST AUSTRALIA. This is one of the most important England-Australia games of any series for yonks because a win will put the host nation on the other side of the draw, avoiding New Zealand. By predicting this result, I’m predicting an Australia-England final;
2. DRAMA OVER RULE INTERPRETATIONS. The fact rugby league has become two, or even three, distinct sports will be highlighted. General warnings, two referees, playing the advantage, fighting and more – they are all policed differently across the competing countries. We won’t get away with it when everyone comes together;
3. TONGA TO BE THE BEST TEAM OUTSIDE THE TOP THREE. They flogged Samoa earlier this year in Sydney and will only be stronger, although Justin Hodges’ injury will almost certainly cost them any hope of getting Michael Jennings.
4. TOURNAMENT TO TURN A MODEST PROFIT AND GIVE US A FULLTIME RLIF. The RLIF having an office and a fulltime staff has been a Holy Grail for internationalists for decades. There seems to be a fair chance that it will actually happen if things go according to plan this month and next;
5. THE TOMAHAWKS TO STRUGGLE. Hello, America. Having the world’s most powerful nation in the World Cup is great for them, and for us. But they just don’t seem to have enough experience in their roster and the move to embrace players from the rebel USARL may have just come too late.
THE thing about writing a column about events in international rugby league is that by the time most people read it, things have completely changed.
Take the announcement that Malta would host Italy during September. Some financial guarantees were not forthcoming and the game was called off.
Or the exciting news that Sydney Roosters star Daniel Mortimer was playing for Wales in the World Cup. Apparently they can’t find his grandmother’s birth certificate and now it’s a non-goer.
This Rugby League World is cover dated October and in the third weekend of October, the Asia Cup is pencilled in to take place at Clark, Angeles City, in the Philippines.
But at the time of going to press, Bondi Beat had reservations that it would actually take place. The Thais need to raise a significant amount of money to get there and then there is the question of who, exactly, “the Thais”, are.
There are two groups claiming to run the game in the kingdom, even though there has only ever been one game played there. One of the groups recently had the other’s Facebook page taken down.
MY recent week in England around the Challenge Cup final was chock full of wonderful experiences that proved to me the sense of wonder and glamour I felt reading this magazine (when it was Open Rugby) as a child was not misplaced.
There was a wonderful night out at the St George pub on Borough High Street, next to the Shard, with members of the travelling Australian cricket media as well as assorted friends from as far afield as Zimbabwe to kick things off.
That Challenge Cup final itself was a great day, rain and second half aside, and the evening concluded with an Ethiopian meal to celebrate the birthday of colleague Andy Wilson (I think it was his 21st).
On a trip north on the Bank Holiday Monday, I was able to strolling into St Helens training ground on Hard Lane (fitting address for a rugby league team, methinks) to be greeted by some friendly faces before cornering Paul Wellens for a profile story which will appear in Australia.
Then, in an experience which felt surreal to someone who sat up watching blurry satellite coverage of the Challenge Cup final and read breathlessly of open-top coach homecomings as a child, I texted Pat Richards, caught the train to Wigan north-western, and conducted an interview in Jumping Jaks as celebrating fans interrupted with photo requests.
My mate, Boston Mass. Resident Jim Savage, who was my pen pal from Open Rugby magazine all those years ago, was home for the Cup and Monday night was spent with assorted friends and family in the Blue Bell in Warrington town centre.
The next morning it was a disturbingly early train journey across to Leeds for a bleery-eyed appearance on Sky’s Backchat programme. The train journey back to London with Stevo was worth the 48 hour round trip to the UK in itself.
And the following day, I sat on the grass at London Broncos’ Roehamption training fields with Jamie Soward, discussing his career’s weird recent trajectory.
How can we stay mad at rugby league for long, when it has given us so much?
REMEMBER at the start of the year, when we all agreed that the big problem with the World Club Challenge was that it was only organised when we knew who is in it?
Oh, there was a ‘working group’ comprising messrs Richardson, Lenagan, Hetherington, Doust and Moran and we were assured the bad old days were behind us.
OK, a quick question. Where is next year’s World Club Challenge being played? And where? Who’s sponsoring it? What TV channel is it on?
We sort of know that it’s going to be somewhere south of the equator on the third weekend of February. But that’s it. Melbourne will want it in Melbourne, South Sydney will want it in Perth, etc, etc.
Is that any way to run a serious sporting competition that decides the world champions in a major professional sport??
A QUICK thanks to Danny Kazandjian, the man who runs the RLEF, for inviting me in to discuss media with the various delegates just before Wembley.
It was fascinating to hear the South African bid for the World Cup, which presented 13 stadia which could all hold more than 40,000 people and members of the successful FIFA World Cup bid.
It’s no doubt too soon to hold a World Cup in South Africa. But as with the WCC item above, we can’t fly by the seat of our pants and run around in our own backyard forever.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD