Well, that was a decent start to the World Cup wasn’t it..
As I write this, the Group stages are over and I have a few observations. Firstly, how bloody good is it to see a competitive Tonga team? That last pool game against NZ was inspirational, and for drama, the Hakas alone beat anything you’ll see in other sports. Sika Manu has been amazing in every game he’s played, I’ve seen more than one Melbourne and Penrith supporter wishing aloud that he was still with them. Mahe Fonua didn’t look out of place either, and will give the coach something to think about – he’ll still probably lose his place to a fit Michael Jennings though. Jason Taumalolo was again nothing short of ridiculous, his leading of the Tongan cultural challenge was inspirational, especially for a player who is reputed to be a quiet, introverted guy. If the international game undergoes a bit of a renaissance after the RLWC, you can look straight at the defection of Taumalolo, Jennings and Fifita as a major reason why.
Then there’s PNG and they hit harder than just about any team I’ve seen play the game, although the downside of them flying in from all angles is that a decent team will simply play around them and shift the ball wing to wing to tire them out. They hammered Wales, every time there was a hit up there were bodies in red shirts littering the ground, they struggled against a very good Ireland side though, and Quarter Final is about their level. Fiji look dangerous, although a Quarter Final against a clearly hurting NZ looks a game too far. Talking of Ireland, the major indictment of this Tournament is that its allowed Ireland to be eliminated after winning two out of three games, yet Samoa go through after not winning one. Liam Kay from Toronto Wolfpack looked dangerous every time the ball went to his wing, and they looked strong in the forwards too.
Mini’s Italy flattered to deceive and along with Wales and Scotland have been the big disappointments of the tournament. It’s coming to something when Josh Mantellato and Terry ‘No Knees’ Campese are wheeled out of semi retirement to play—and even worse when certain Rovers reporters labelled the latter’s one and only game as sensational. Get a grip. The sprinkling of NRL or Super League talent couldn’t compensate for a poor start.
From a Hull FC point of view, watching the USA games for glimpses of our new signing Bureta Faraimo was a bit of a struggle. They were toilet. For his part, he looks strong and hard to put down, frequently keeping his feet for a quick play the ball. He looked the player most likely to spark something for them, although his defence looked a little lazy. With the right structure around him however, I think he’ll be okay. If Radford plays him on the wing, does that make him “The Yank Tank on the Flank”?
France did the best they could in the group of death, but you’d have expected them to beat Lebanon and generally they played badly and looked short of leadership. And on to England. The next couple of games will decide how history will judge Wayne Bennett’s tenue in charge, but I’ve got to say that the squad he picked is hardly balanced.
There are players sat at home that should be in Australia, and as Hull supporters we’re always going to be biased, but Shaul, Watts, Sneyd and arguably Connor would have added something very different to that squad. The one thing that worried Australia in the tournament opener was McGillvary’s speed, so imagine Jamie Shaul chiming in from Full Back as well – he’d have scared them to death around the ruck. Gale has looked average up to now and Hodgson has been well and truly eclipsed by James Roby, which has actually made me glad that Danny Houghton wasn’t selected. Roby has surprised me, and he obviously had a point to prove.
What Brown is doing there is anyone’s guess. Mind you, on second thoughts, that fact that Dennis Betts is Wayne Bennett’s eyes and ears in the UK during the Super League season is probably the reason. It’s been fairly well documented that Bennett didn’t know the names of a couple of the players when they convened for their first team meeting and training session, that’s simply not good enough. I’d take a little tactical naivety and have an English coach such as Wane or McDermott (or even Radders) over an Aussie that is a liability in front of the media. Rugby League gets precious little credibility in the mainstream media, and having a coach as taciturn as Bennett actively damages our brand in my opinion. It’ll all be forgiven if we end up winning the thing of course.
On the subject of the media coverage of the World Cup, I feel for those of you that subscribed to Premier Sports due to their promise of every game live only to miss out on the game of the tournament when they prioritised the first leg of the NZ v Peru Soccer game….. When will we ever be taken seriously?
Now, before I go, a few words of advice for those of you planning the trip out to watch the games in February. Firstly, DON’T buy English sunscreen. February sun will rip right through that stuff…. You need something higher than Factor 40 over here or you’ll burn to a crisp. Talking of crisps, don’t ask for a bag….. Aussies call them chips. Chips are “hot chips” nobody knows why. For the game at WIN, it’s a night game, so bring lots of insect repellent. You’ll get eaten alive by mozzies if you don’t, and you’ll hate the constant itching for days afterwards!
Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.
Rich – Twitter @pommyrich