FAR & WIDE: Ireland, Czech Republic, Japan, Greece, Hungary, France, Malta

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
IN locations as diverse as Bray, Ireland, Prague, Czech Republic and Tokyo, Japan, our international season got underway at the weekend.
In Bray, the Irish Wolfhounds were taking on Malta and the home side ran out 56-10 winners. It was only in the dying stages they ran away with the match, however with the score 22-4 at halftime and 34-10 with 18 minutes to play.
Greece have had a tough year domestically, with the country expelled from the European Federation for a number of administrative irregularities.
But they have shown their fighting qualities with a successful visit to the Japanese capital, winning 74-0.
The game was played on an artificial surface in front of a vocal crowd of a couple of hundred. Australia-based players now proceed to Athens for a number of rugby league events.
In Prague the Czechs went down heavily to the visiting Ukraine, 64-12. The Ukraine won the earlier match 46-6, meaning they will be the side to progress in the World Cup qualifiers.
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AN innovative series played over the weekend was the Capitals of Europe Nines in Budapest.
The tournament at Epitok Sports Field featured teams from London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Belgrade, Paris, Vitez and Budapest.
London Warriors took out the event. Hungary are taking part in the Cabramatta Nines next year.
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MEETINGS are continuing aimed at having Emerging Nations curtain-raisers for next year’s World Cup in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
There now appears to be an alternate plan under consideration – a seven team Emerging Nations World Cup played in western Sydney.
The matches would all be played between November 20 and 25, with venues to include Pepper Stadium and Campbelltown Stadium.
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FORMER international Marc Palanques has joined the RLEF board as a representative of France.
Elsewhere, Wests Tigers’ Daniel Burke, alongside Jordan Grant and James Mirceski are newcomers to Serbia’s squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers – starting with this weekend’s visit to Wales.
Spain have also called up a couple of foreign-based stars, Hull’s Joel Laynez and Leandre Torres of French outfit Palau XIII.
Follow @RLWfarandwide

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

World Cup: AUSTRALIA 50 IRELAND 0 at Thomond Park, Limerick

By STEVE MASCORD
WITH the talismanic Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston rested, Australia deliberately ignored some attacking opportunites to practice their structures ahead of the World Cup knock-out stages.
The 5212 crowd – poor by World Cup standards but a record high for an international in Ireland – probably didn’t hold out much hope for expansive play given the wet, cold conditions at the home Munster rugby union.
But when Australia winger Jarryd Hayne scored after a minute after some clever right-edge attack, the tournament favourites had every right to continue going there.
Instead, they rigidly stuck to a pragmatic attacking template they hope will carry them successfully through the quarters, semis and the World Cup final.
“It’s about playing well. Respect the opposition and play the game-plan you would if you were playing one of the so-called Big Three,” said coach Tim Sheens
“It’s a matter of playing the way you want and not necessarily the opportunities that are in front of you and that we were shown tonight at times.
“We were determined to keep it nice and tight and we designed a gameplan around our kick-and-chase and our defence.”
amazonIreland had a positive period, during which they attacked and defended with greater purpose and confidence, just after halftime. The couldn’t cross the stripe themselves but kept the Aussies out for 18 minutes.
For Australia, Daly Cherry-Evans second start in the halves was an unqualified success. He scored a well-taken kick-and-chase try, was handed man-of-the-match and must now be pushing for a utility bench spot in Sheens’ top side.
Winger Hayne’s early score from a Brent Tate break gave the impression of an avalanche of points but it never really got to that stage.
It was another 10 minutes befoe scrum-half Cooper Cronk snuck over from close range and a further 19 before Greg Bird, running a nice angle after a penalty – ticked the scoreboard over again.
Referee Phil Bentham’s insistence on fast rucks consistenty frustrated and upset the Wolfhounds and Australian tries often followed the shrill of his whistle/
Winger Brett Morris took advantage of a bouncing ball than landed in his arms and fullback Billy Slater found himself over the tryline – almost as an afterthough – after chiming into a well-executed backline movement.
The Irish were a different side after the break but when their defensive line did open, it was a gaping hole in centrefield for Melbourne’s Cronk to dash through.
The came Cherry-Evans’ score – he slid along the lush turf to reclaim his kick and dot down – interchange Andrew Fifita’s thundering run from 15 out, and Hayne’s second which closed the scoring.
Ireland coach Mark Aston and captain Liam Finn were almost ebulient despite the heavy defeat and a campaign which did not feature a victory.
“We got together three Saturdays ago and you could see that in our first couple of performances,” said Aston.
“I think we’ve got something like 20 teams domestically, as amateurs. The big challenge for them is rugby union in Ireland is massive, as we know, and this facility is jammed every week
“There;s 4* (rugby union) development officers in this area alone so how do you get them to play league?
“We’ve got to be smart. We’ve got to set academies up. We’ve got to hit those who don’t quite hit it for rugby union.”
donateSheens did not think England and New Zealand likely playing each other in a semi-final would be an advantage in terms of intensity going into the November 30 final.
“In ’09 when we were over here for the Four Nations, we played New Zealand first, then England, then France,” he said.
“So far as the seedings were concerned, we went backwards but we still came out to win the competition.”
Sheens says he is likely to field his best 17 against the United States at Wrexham on Saturday and that one centre position, loose forward and prop are the positions causing him most angst.
GAMESTAR
DALY CHERRY EVANS: He’s not going to get a starting spot when the whips are cracking by DCE has done everything right against Fiji and Ireland. He executed Sheens’ conservative gameplan to perfections and scored a well-taken try.
GAMEBREAKER: When Jarryd Hayne scored after only one minute, the result was only going to go one way. Surprisingly, it came against the left side defence of Australians Josh Toole and Pat Richards.
TOP TACKLE: James Hasson pulled off a hit on Billy Slater that kept the local fans happy despite a big score in the second half. The Wolfhounds muscled up for long periods.

STORY OF THE GAME
1 Jarryd Hayne try………………………..4-0
Cameron Smith missed goal (0/1)…4-0
11 Cooper Cronk try…………………….8-0
Cameron Smith goal (1/2)………….10-0
30 Greg Bird try……………………………14-0
Cameron Smith goal (2/3)…………..16-0
31 Brett Morris try………………………..20-0
Cameron Smith goal (3/4)…………..22-0
39 Billy Slater try…………………………..26-0
Cameron Smith missed goal (3/5)…26-0
55 Cooper Cronk try……………………..30-0
Corey Parker goal (1/1)……………..32-0
59 Daly Cherry-Evans try………………. 36-0
Corey Parker goal (2/2)……………..38-0
64 Andrew Fifita try……………………….44-0
Corey Parker goal (3/3)……………..46-0
72 Jarryd Hayne try……………………….50-0
Corey Parker missed goal (2 from 3) 50-0

MATCH FACTS
AUSTRALIA
1. Billy Slater (Melbourne)
2. Brett Morris (St George Illawarra)
3. Josh Morris (Canterbury)
4. Brent Tate (North Queensland)
5. Jarryd Hayne (Parramatta)
6. Daly Cherry Evans (Manly)\
7. Cooper Cronk (Melbourne)
8. Paul Gallen (Cronulla)\
9. Cameron Smith (capt, Melbourne)
10. James Tamou (North Queensland)
11. Greg Bird (Gold Coast)
12. Sam Thaiday (Brisbane)
13. Nate Myles (Gold Coast)
INTERCHANGE:
14. Boyd Cordner (Sydney Roosters)
15. Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers)\
16. Andrew Fifita (Cronulla)
17. Corey Parker (Brisbane)

IRELAND
1. Scott Grix (Huddersfield)
2. Damien Blanch (Catalan)
3. Stuart Littler (Leigh)
4. Joshua Toole (Illawarra Cutters)
5. Pat Richards (Wigan)
6. James Mendeika (Warrington)
7. Liam Finn (capt, Featherstone)
8. Brett White (Canberra)
9. Rory Kostjsyn (North Queensland)
10. Anthony Mullaly (Huddersfield|)
11. Tyrone McCarthy (Warrington)
12. David Allen (Widnes)
13. Simon Finnigan (Leigh)
INTERCHANGE (all used):
14. Bob Beswick (Leigh)
15. James Hasson (Manly)
16. Ben Currie (Warrington)
17. Luke Ambler (Halifax)
Rugby Leaguer & League Express Men of the Match: Australia: Daly Cherry-Evans. Ireland: Brett White. Penalty count: 5-10. GLDO Forced: 2-0. 40/20s: 0-0.


Filed for: LEAGUE EXPRESS

World Cup: ENGLAND 42 IRELAND 0 at John Smiths Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD
ENGLAND has been hit by another World Cup drama with coach Steve McNamara refusing to say why crack centre Zac Hardaker had been left out of the big win over Ireland.
Reports surfaced before kick-off in the 42-0 shutout before a ground record 24,373 crowd in Huddersfield that Leeds Hardaker had become the latest man to be punished for disciplinary breaches and his position in the squad for the rest of the tournament was in jeopardy.
When McNamara was asked by Fairfax Media about the reports, he said: “I don’t really know what the reports were so I can’t really clarify anything to you.”
Asked if Hardaker was injured, McNamara said: “No. He wasn’t picked, like there were seven this week who weren’t picked.
“You’ve very good at speculating, very good at trying to find things out. As the press, I guess it’s your job.
“The reality is, any decision I make is based on the best decision for the team and for the group and not based around pleasing the media.”
amazonMcNamara had previous reacted tersely to questions about disciplinary issues in his squad. Second rower Gareth Hock was sacked from the tournament in circumstances that have not been completely explained and former captain James Graham was missing from the opening match against Australia amid reports of him breaking a drinking ban.
Graham, who came off the bench in Saturday’s eight-try win at John Smiths Stadium, was afterwards asked why he was omitted in Cardiff.
“It’s not my thing to talk about selection policy. You’d have to ask the coach,” the Canterbury forward said.
“It was (hard) but I wasn’t selected and I was still cheering the boys on and they did a really good job.”
England played with poise and confidence at Huddersfield against an Irish combination including many part-timers, leading 30-0 at halftime. On one wing, Ryan Hall posted a hat trick while on the other, Tom Briscoe got one over selection rival Josh Charnley with a brace.
Sean O’Loughlin also made a return, meaning his last three games were a Challenge Cup final, a Super League grand final and a Test.
donateDespite prop Brett White playing on with concussion, the Irish side which will host Australia at Thomond Park, Limerick, next Saturday had no answer to the English class – although they did look like prizing open the defence at times.
“What you want is a consistent level of support,” said Ireland coach Mark Aston. “I don’t think any of the home nations get the right sort of support.
“We went into camp two weeks ago today. We’ve had 10 sessions together, 12 sessions. It makes it very tough for them.”
ENGLAND 42 (Ryan Hall 3, Tom Briscoe 2, Brett Ferres, Kallum Watkins, Rangi Chase tries; Kevin Sinfield 4, Gareth Widdop goals) bt IRELAND 0 at John Smiths Stadium. Referee: Thierry Alibert (France). Crowd: 24,373.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: International season week two 2014

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

PLAY LEAGUE, SEE THE WORLD

TOP players would be hired as ambassadors and sent to promote the game around the world as part of one proposal if the new Rugby League International Federation office is based in Sydney. In a move which could address the loss of stars to rival codes, the scheme would provide legitimate additional earnings for elite players and also match the opportunities for travel offered by other sports, Set Of Six has learned. The scheme would be financed by assembling a portfolio of current NRL sponsors who are headquartered overseas and interested in broadening their involvement in the code. But at the moment it seems likely the RLIF will be based on the northern hemisphere and minimise its engagement with the NRL and NRL players, with its first fulltime CEO to have had no history in the game. In that case, the ambassador scheme would not get past first base.

HAKA HULLABALOO

THANKS to the Junior Kangaroos and Junior Kiwis for reminding us all about one of the perennial yarns of the Four Nations and Tri-Nations – the haka. Remember Willie Mason and David Kidwell? The young Aussies linked arms and advanced on the haka at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday before the junior international, actually touching heads in some cases – pretty remarkable scenes. Some of the forehead-lunges may have brought a penalty or worse after kick-off and the match officials got between the players as things got testy. Could we see Tim Sheens’ men do something similar at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday? And we are already salivating at the prospect of pre-match formalities when the Kiwis take on the Samoans at Whangerei.

NO MORE AWARD DRAMA

donate2ORGANISERS of the RLIF player of the year award have sidestepped the controversy surrounding Ben Hunt and Daly Cherry Evans at the Dally Ms by doing away with positional award voting. Manly’s Cherry-Evans made the Dally M NRL team of the year at halfback even though Brisbane’s Hunt polled more votes. The RLIF Award will be presented at a Brisbane luncheon on Thursday. Instead of judges being asked to vote for players in each position, they were simply given a shortlist and asked to provide a three-two-one on their top three candidates. Sonny Bill Williams got the gong in 2013; there must be a fair chance it will go to another departing star in 2014 with Sam Burgess and Jarryd Hayne among a group of nominees that also include Greg Inglis, James Graham and Johnathan Thurston. Teams for the double-header on Saturday will be named on Tuesday – tournament rules stipulate starting sides must be announced, not just squads as at the World Cup.

PHANTOM SIREN GOES GLOBAL

JARRYD Hayne isn’t the only NRL institution thinking global at the weekend. The Phantom Siren made his international debut when Fiji played Lebanon at Remondis Stadium on Sunday, doing his thing as Fiji made a break while ahead 22-12 a few seconds from halftime. “It’s one of the drummers,” radio sideline eye Daniel Pettigrew reported, in reference to the musicians on the Lebanon bench. Fiji didn’t flinch but also didn’t score before the proper bell rang out. By fulltime, they had run out 40-28 victors in the Hayne-Mannah Cup. “On behalf of all the Fijian-Australian boys, we wish Jarryd luck overseas,” Bati captain Wes Naiqama told a crowd of around 1000 as he accepted the trophy, the name of which seems unlikely to be affected by the Parramatta star’s flirtations with the NFL.

FARAH EYES CEDARS SEND-OFF

ROBBIE Farah is eying a 2017 World Cup send-off – by representing Lebanon alongside new Australia team-mate Josh Mansour. Under new World Cup qualification rules, Africa and the Middle East are guaranteed one spot in the tournament, to be held in Australia, New Zealand and possibly Papua New Guinea. That makes the Cedars odds-on to qualify after missing the last two tournaments by the barest of margins. “Hopefully one day I can get back there and help them out,” Farah told Set Of Six. “The World Cup in 2017 … I’ll be 33 so I’m not sure if I’ll still be picked by Australia or not. The Commission would be very happy if Lebanon qualifies, in terms of the crowd they will generate. I think they’ll get there this time and if we do, we’ll have a pretty good side – myself, Tim Mannah, the Robinson brothers (Reece and Travis), Mitchell Moses and Josh Mansour who is here with me.”

INTERNATIONAL MEN OF HISTORY

amazonONCE upon a time, you could comfortably make it to every rugby league international played in a given year. Now, it’s difficult to even keep up with the scores. Aside from events at Remondis Stadium on Sunday, Latin America beat Portugal 40-6 at Woolhara and in Lae, PNG beat Tonga 32-18/ Earlier in the weekend, the Junior Kiwis edged out the Junior Kangaroos 15-14 in Auckland, Ireland upset France 22-12 in Dublin, Greece beat Bosnia-Herzigovina 58-4 and Serbia flogged Hungary 50-0, both in Belgrade, while Scotland returned to happy hunting grounds in Workington to outclass Wales 44-18. The games in Serbia were part of a new competition, the Balkans Cup.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Fullblood: An Englishman Who Plays For Ireland & Lives In Queensland

McCarthy, TyroneBy STEVE MASCORD

PROFESSIONAL rugby league players get a bad rap. At best, they are seen as mindless automatons, oblivous to the nuances of life around them, trained wholely to run at brick walls and tackle semi-trailers.
At worse, our football stars are portrayed as oafish, neanderthal hoons with no regard for anyone but themselves.
In the case of either cliche, an appreciation and understanding for their game’s history and culture, and a concern for its future, are not often ascribed as part of the current player’s make-up.
The reality is most often somewhat different. Just about every NRL player gives up countless hours doing community and charity work. When Newcastle halfback Dane Campbell was understudy to Andrew Johns at Newcastle, he was using his spare time to help start rugby league in Jamaica.
And for Ireland vice-captain and new Northern Pride signing Tyrone McCarthy, time spent in Africa doing charity work during his gap year has had a much more profound impact on his life than anything he achieved as a Super League player with Warrington.
Like Campbell, McCarthy has become involved in helping rugby league develop in places affected by poverty; in his case, Fiji, with his project The Fullblood Project.
“People do said to me ‘why?’,” the 25-year-old backrower says from Cairns. “They’re, like, how do you make money from that?
“But if you’d gone to Africa on that trip, and you’d seen how happy those kids were … and it’s not just making them happy, it’s the fact that you could give them an opportunity and through the work you do, you could help make them a better person.
“It would be great if, when my rugby (league, Australian readers!) career is over, I could get paid to go and do these programs but that’s not what it’s about.”
Charity work, particularly in Africa, is so much in demand among young westerners that the organisations involved not only charge to do it but there is a long waiting list and many kids actually miss out.
“We did the normal things: building houses, putting up mosquito nets,” McCarthy recalls. “But we also did a rugby league programme and at the end of it we had a little carnival which the kids really enjoyed.”
When McCarthy returned to England, he and some mates – Rob Griffiths, Tom Whitehead and Nigel Scott – came up with the idea of doing a rugby league-based program in less fortunate parts of the world. “And then we kind of thought ‘well, if we went to Fiji, what if we used it to identify some talent too, to help get players in touch with clubs and vice-versa”.
It was when McCarthy began playing for Ireland in 2009 that the idea of Fullblood was born. “I’m obviously a heritage player and we want fullbloods playing for Ireland, Fiji, whatever,” he explains.
“The idea was to introduce young kids to the sport, teach them about the game and show them about the standards of behaviour that are required in an NRL or Super League environment as well.
“So we are doing general work in the community as well as things that are specifically introducing people to rugby league.”
While Tyrone was eeking out a professional career at Warrington and playing in the World Cup, his cohorts were taking Steedens to remote islands in Fiji, teaching the locals rugby league. They’ve enacted a full ciriculum, teaching kids about the history of the game as well as how to play it. It’s a trip McCarthy is itching to take himself – as well as expanding Fullblood to other parts of the world.
“My move from Warrington to the Northern Pride has slowed things down a little,” he says.
And after scoring two tries on debut against the Sunshine Coast (“that beats my total for last year”), it’s a move that is going well for McCarthy. “Cairns is pretty different to home – very hot and humid,” he said.
“But I couldn’t have asked for more from the club when it came to helping me and my missus settle in. It’s been fantastic.
“Naturally it would be great to get back into a fulltime set-up (with an NRL club) but I have no complaints.”
Being part-time means McCarthy has to take a job – and it’s one he is well suited to: teaching.
“It’s a joint position with the Queensland Department of Education and the Northern Pride, doing the Pride’s rugby league program,” he explains. “With all the indigenous communities up here, I think the Fullbloods Project would be perfect.
“Actually, there is a lot in the Pride program that is quite inspirational. Towards the end of the year, we’ll look at doing a joint program, perhaps.
“It’s not until you get out here that you realise how big rugby league really is in Australia. It’s massive, it’s everything. If we could get our brandname out there and ride on the back of that, we could really make a difference.”
Visit Fullbloods at thefullbloodproject.org

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

World Cup: FIJI 32 IRELAND 14 at Spotland Stadium, Rochdale


By STEVE MASCORD

FIJI’s rugby league side which plays Australia this weekend is prone to emotional outbursts because it contains two sets of brothers, according to North Queensland’s Tariq Sims.

Sims was joined by siblings Ashton and Korbin plus Wes and Kevin Naiqama in the Bati outfit that outclassed Ireland 32-14 at Rochdale’s Spotland Stadium on Monday night, with Aquila Uate celebrating his return to the side with a hat-trick.

But a period in the first half, when Bati players rushed out of the line in an attempt to smash their opponents following a dust-up, concerned coach Rick Stone and senior players.

Decorated former Australia prop Petero Civoniceva described Saturday’s Langtree Park clash with the green and golds as “just another game” but Tariq Sims admitted playing with your own flesh and blood presented unique problems

“It’s unreal but sometimes it’s a bad thing,” he told Fairfax Media.

“You see one of them get tackled and you just want to race in there and help your brother out.

“Well, everyone in the team’s a brother but you want to help your blood out. We’ll make sure we can curb our passion next week.”

The Bati’s little burst of attempted vengeance resulted in a try conceded to Irishman Tyrone McCarthy and, later, interchange man Eloni Vunakece being sent to the sin bin. Stone said “we defended, at times, with too much emotion. That’s something I’ve got to control in the future.”

“Stoney’s right. We need to tone that down a bit; a few of the boys haven’t played for Fiji before,” said Newcastle’s Uate, who has played for Australia since representing Fiji in the 2008 World Cup.

Cheered on by the strong local Fijiann community, the Bati raced to a 10-0 lead after 12 minutes on the back of tries to Uate and man of the match Kevin Naiqama.

But McCarthy sneaking over in the corner after a period when the sides used each other as target practice interrupted their momentum. It was only regained when Tariq Sims reached over his head to score in the 51st minute.

There was a humorous moment when video referee Henry Perenara said “Oh Jesus, I can’t see much there, I can’t tell” when asked to adjudicate on a Korbin Sims touchdown. “I’ll go benefit of the doubt”.

At 77 minutes, it was 32-4. Catalans winger Damien Blanch and Manly forward James Hassan crossed for late Wolfhounds touchdowns to make the scoreline more palatable.

“It’s another game,” 37-year-old Civoniceva said of the clash with his former Test team-mates. “I haven’t really thought about too much.”

Ireland play England on Saturday. Captain Liam Finn said some of the players may have been trying to impress their new team-mates rather than displaying patience.

Coach Mark Aston added: “Brett White was the best player on the field, he was immense.

“I’m sure we can challenge England. Hey, England haven’t been great of late, have they?”

FIJI 32 (Akuila Uate 3, Kevin Naiqama, Tariq Sims, Korbin Sims tries; Wes Naiqama 4 goals) beat IRELAND 14 (Tyrone McCarthy, Damien Blanch, James Hassan tries; Pat Richards goal) at Spotland Stadium, Rochdale. Referee: Phil Bentham (England). Crowd: 8872.


Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

The A List: PAT RICHARDS (Wigan & Ireland)

Wigan - Pat RichardsBy STEVE MASCORD

“GO on,” a man in his 50s tells his young son, wearing a Warrington jersey, who has just posed for a photo with Pat Richards on King Street in Wigan.

The youngster, maybe 11, looks nervous has he faces the Australian-come-Irish winger who had two days before kicked four goals from as many attempts in front of 78,000 people at Wembley Stadium.

Mustering his best Neighbours accent, the kid says “no worries, mate!” to the lanky flanker who has turned back toward him.

Richards smiles kindly. “Good on you, mate,” he responds.

Even for A-List, this is a pinch-me moment. For almost three decades I’ve been sitting up until 2am watching Challenge Cup finals and reading about open-top bus homecomings for the winning (and even losing) teams.

Now, here I am, with one of the Cup winners’ star players, walking the streets of Wigan after one such parade attracted up to 20,000 fans. There are still the remnants of streamers and banners lying around and Jumpin’ Jaks bar – where this interview was conducted with music pulsing in the background – is busier than it out to be on a Bank Holiday Monday.

These rituals, like most of rugby league’s, happen completely out of sight from the national press in the UK. They are almost direct interactions between fans and teams, and as a result you feel like you’ve stepped into a timewarp on afternoons such as this.

There are no minders around the celebrating players. There is no-one telling Richards he shouldn’t be in a bar at 4.30 in the afternoon. I contact the player directly, chat to him for as long as I have to, and he walks me back to the train station.

This is what rugby league would still be like in Australia if the media didn’t care about it.

“It’s been crazy,” 31-year-old Richards says, tired by sober, leaning on a stand-up bar table inside Jumping Jaks.

“It’s like you say, when you’re a kid you see these games on tele and then you’re involved in them and the stuff that goes with them.

“We came back today and there’s a parade with probably 20,000 people in Wigan. It doesn’t really sink in just yet. It’s a bit of a crazy sort of time but I’ve loved every minute of it.

“The rugby league towns – Wigan’s one of them – have a history of being involved in this and that Challenge Cup is massive for them. To be involved in it has been amazing.”

Since scoring that unforgettable try off Benji Marshall’s flick pass in the 2005 grand final, Richards has written his name into the history books of rugby league in the country that invented it.

He is the first Australian to score 1000 points at Wigan, the club’s highest points scorer in a single match during the Super League era, the competition’s leading pointscorer multiple times, the former Man of Steel as its best player,

“I thought I’d be here two years,” he admits. “I had a third year option but that was in my favour. After two years, I thought ‘it’s pretty good here’ so I extended one more year and thought I’d probably go home. Then I signed around three years and another two years on top of that!

“I just kept extending, I thought ‘why not, I’m enjoying it’. I’m in another part of the world, I can always go back to Australia. It’s worked out great for me.

“I’ve been everywhere. I’ve been to Italy loads of times, that’s probably my favourite place. Just everything’s on your doorstep, you know? Flights are so cheap. In an hour, you can be in Paris or somewhere like that. As Aussies, it takes us 24 hours to get anywhere.

“The game’s not in the newspapers at all, the major ones. In Sydney, you get the paper and you can go eight pages back and it’s still rugby league. In the major papers here, you’re 10 pages in and it’s one little paragraph. I think that’s a good thing as well, the boys love that it’s not in there.”

The decision to sign with Wests Tigers for the next two years was just as easy as all those contract extensions at DW Stadium. Pat wants to settle his family back home.

“If I didn’t go now, I’d never get the chance to go back and when the Tigers came in, it’s a perfect fit really,” he reflects. “Obviously I’ve been there before and to go back and finish my career in the NRL, it’s too good to refuse.

“If another club would have come in, I would have probably looked at it. When they came in, it just felt right.”

When Richards signed,a reunion with Marshall was a tantalising prospect. “Originally, at the time, I did (think it would happen) because he was still signed but he’s decided to move on and I wish him well,” he says.

But things change. Richards was at his peak when he signed for Wigan. Today, a player in his position would probably try to wriggle out of the deal.

“It’s a weird one, that. I don’t know how people can do that, you know? You sign a contract, that’s what you do. I don’t really know which way you want to go with me on this one.

“ I’ve got no real regrets at all about what I’ve done. I’ve loved my time here, I loved my time back there. I’m going to miss the place here. I’ve made some good friends here as well.”

Similarly, things have not exactly soared at Wests Tigers since Pat’s homecoming was announced. The joint venture partners are at loggerheads over funding and coach Michael Potter’s side is second last on the table.

Richards says:  “I’m still in touch with the boys there – Robbie Farah, Dene Halatau is going back now as well.

“They’re a side I look out for because I’ve got a lot of mates there as well and I suppose it’s unfortunate they’ve had a pretty bad run with injuries this year and obviously the pressure back there, it’s been quite tough.

“But they’ve got a very promising future with a lot of these young kids. Luke Brooks had a great game the other day and that’s where the future lies for them – those young fellas coming through.

“I see it as a challenge, yeah. Because of my age, people are going to say ‘too old’ and whatever. Everything’s a challenge. I’ve been involved in a club like Wigan where we’re expected to win every week so that’s a challenge in itself.”

But Pat, who’ll again suit up for Ireland in the World Cup, has never been the sort to let pressure weigh him down. He stayed in England because it felt right – and recently booted a field goal from the wing, near halfway, in the derby against St Helens for the same reason.

The one-pointer is truly a modern wonder of the game and has become a YouTube sensation.

“It’s gone a bit crazy. I don’t even know why I had a crack at it, to be honest. I just had a ball thrown to me on the last and just thought ‘oh well, I might as well have a shot. It happened so quick. It would have been better if won the game. Oh well, it wasn’t to be.

“I wasn’t goal-kicking when I was in the NRL. I played soccer when I was a kid. I always loved kicking a ball. I enjoy that part of it, goal-kicking as well.”

Richards would like to get involved in coaching when he retires. He isn’t sure if he’ll be playing against Wigan fullback Sam Tomkins in the NRL next season “Sam, he says he hasn’t signed a contract. That’s what everyone believes.”

After the final photo of Wigan’s Challenge Cup celebrations, with the “no worries, mate” lad, we walk back to Wigan North Western Station with Pat’s brother-in-law, who is going home next week … “unless that job in London comes up”.

Pat Richards isn’t much different. He’s been on a helluva working holiday for the last eight years, breaking records and playing before massive crowds.

Now he’s going home, like thousands of other expats in myriad lines of work.

“The Challenge Cup on Saturday, it was the 19th time the club’s won it,” he says proudly.

“We’ve got great history in this club and to be involved in this is something I’ll always remember. It’s a privilege to play for the club.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FAR & WIDE: Number 30

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

NEWLY re-signed Canberra prop Brett White is sitting by the phone waiting for the call to come from Ireland’s World Cup coach Mark Aston.

White was in the Wolfhounds’ squad for the 2008 tournament but had to withdraw through injury and is worried he may have been forgotten.

“I don’t know, they must be going alright over there,” White tells Far & Wide. “I got in contact with them when I was over for the World Club Challenge (before the last World Cup)

“I haven’t heard anything. I certainly am (interested). I was very close to my grandfather, who probably had the biggest influence on my life.

“He was Irish, came out from Ireland for the Snowy River Scheme in the fifties – Arthur Costello. He was the biggest influence on my life and my football career.

“To be able to play for Ireland, it would mean a lot to my family and myself. At the moment, I’ve been trying to just do the best for the Raiders and get back to the best footy I can play.

“If that happens at the end of the year, that would be fantastic.”

NSW five-eighth James Maloney also checked out his lineage to see if he was eligible for Ireland. “But it’s great grandparents, not grandparents,” he said with disappointment.

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THE latest country outside the World Cup to plan post-season internationals is Vanuatu.

Melbourne centre Justin O’Neill qualifies for the fledgling league nation but didn’t play last year against Greece.

However, he’s a huge chance of making his bow this year. Opponents and dates to be announce some time in the next week.

Elsewhere, Jamaica has just completed a very successful schools tournament and former St Helens and Samoa star Apollo Perelini will coach the United Arab Emirates Under 18s against Lebanon in September.

League is getting a surprising amount of newspaper coverage in the UAE, with The National reporting Perelini’s appointment in detail.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK