This could (not) have started any better…

International media launch day for the Rugby League World Cup dawned with the usual leaden sky over Manchester. Team 13 were again there, handing out accreditation to the world’s media, showing players & coaches where they were to wait until everyone was ready for the big announcement.

Only problem is, despite being told on more than one occasion by those in charge of the World Cup that they couldn’t do it without us, once we had served our purpose, we were left in an ante room to wait for the media to finish, before we were allowed anywhere near anything…And by that time, the whole place was emptying and we waited ¾ of an hour to be told thanks, you can go now.

Today, once all the media were in the Europa suite, it would have been nice to allow those of us that were there just to stand at the rear of the room so we could feel part of the team, and not left in a room like some mad old aunt who is an embarrassment to the family… I had to hope things would get better as the tournament went live…And boy, did it get better!

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New Zealand V Samoa at the Halliwell Jones in Warrington.

Thankfully, once Sunday & the Halliwell Jones arrived & my first “actual” game (New Zealand V Samoa) 99% of the wrinkles were ironed out. Martin Johnston & Tom Coates who were running communications, PR & press for the event were like a pair of ducks on a pond, serene on the surface, but paddling like mad underneath to make certain that everyone got what they needed as soon as possible.

The event for me kicked off as I arrived at the ground at just gone 2pm, ready for a 6pm kick off. I was expecting (and was told) that there would be a lot of sitting about doing nothing but waiting, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Our two volunteer leaders, Marc and Dan, sat us all down and gave us a team talk ahead of sending us on a tour of the areas we would be in (for me, the press rooms, media area and press box) during the game. We had just been told to kill an hour, when Tom & Martin arrived to get us all set up in the press box.

For today, this meant me updating the twitter feed for the 1st half and then spotting the 2nd half. It took us a while to get set up, as usual with big events like this, we found ourselves at the mercy of the all-seeing god that is Wi-Fi, or lack thereof. Martin to his credit was running up and down between the corporate office and the press box, trying to find out why the press Wi-Fi was not working and eventually one of the IT guys came to his rescue by setting up the 5 of us in the social media team with a hotspot for the match.

I have to say that from arriving, to kick off, everyone involved, from the very top to the very bottom, was giving it their all for the tournament and making certain that everything was running smoothly. Once we were up and online, there was just time to use the loo & grab a hot beverage before I grabbed a quick chat with event manager for Event 360, Pete Nuttall, whose job it was to make certain everything ran to time with regard to on field entertainment, of which there was plenty. From the handing over of the match ball, to the dancing at half time and making certain every single one of those involved knew where they needed to be and was there doing what they should. Pete was desperate to get out from under his headphones and do what he loves most, which is to be on the pitch, with a microphone, announcing matches.

As the press took seats around us, we had the legend that is Ray French behind us, fresh from his last ever live BBC TV game, on the mic for Radio Merseyside, and next to him, Dave Woods doing the same job for BBC 5 Live.

To find ourselves working with such esteemed reporters really added to the occasion, and made us feel as if we really were part of the World Cup Family.

Once the game kicked off, we really had to be on top of our game. For the 3 of us responsible for the Twitter feed, it meant one spotting, one tweeting and one fact checking with the responsibilities swapping about after the ½ time show. This meant making certain we included the game hashtag in each tweet, as well as a uniform look to them where possible, and make certain no names were spelt wrong…Not an easy task when auto correct kept changing Mannering to something totally different and some of the players’ names were just plain impossible to get past that darn auto correct.

Things were going really well until about the 65th minute when our Wi-Fi went down. Despite attempts to reset, we were told not to worry and get ready for the post match press conferences by both teams. Again, we found ourselves surrounded by both the dead tree press and broadcast media as the captains and coaches answered (almost) every question put to them ahead of copy being filed, meaning given SBW & his show boating slip up, some interesting answers from Stephen Kearney…

So, all that was left was to grab my gear, head to the car & make my way back along the A57 to Manchester and get some sleep before going to Rochdale on Monday to do it all again…

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Monday dawned and every outlet was telling the world that Southern England had been hit by the great St. Jude storm the night before. This meant that under a fifth of the country had been a bit windy overnight, but the day in Manchester, and by extension, Rochdale, a few miles away was sunny and quite mild.

Once I’d sorted all my gear out from the night before, I began to head to the game, using public transport for a change. Easy enough to get to Spotlands, but getting home would be a lot harder with the last bus leaving well before the press conference was under way. As has become the norm, Team 13 pulled together as one and I was offered a lift home from one of the other members of the team.

By the time I had arrived at the meeting point for pre match briefings, the weather had changed. For the worse. What felt like 3 inches of rain fell in under an hour…

At least we knew now that our uniform jackets were waterproof! Once again, we were in the capable hands of Martin & Tom who showed us to the press box, asked us not to eat the food laid out for the members of the real press, and left us in the hands of Brian, our team leader for the night. After a quick get to know you chat with everyone, I took my seat & began to tweet the build-up and atmosphere ahead of the hotly anticipated clash between Fiji and Ireland. For the 2nd night running, I was part of a sell-out crowd, and a record for a rugby league game in Rochdale. By this time, the other members of the press were not only getting used to us being in their midst, but actively helping us out by sharing info. It did help that I’d written for a number of them in the past & would like to thank Phil Caplan & Tony Hannan for offering to sneak me food from the press table, mainly because Tony gets heartburn from eating cake…

The game more than lived up to the hyperbole that had gone ahead of it, with a partisan crowd easily making this a Fijian home game, not a surprise, given that Rochdale has the largest Fijian population outside of Fiji in the world! Everyone at Rochdale Hornets are rightly proud of the connection between this south sea island and this small mill town in the Pennines, and they really made certain that this game was well publicised and a sell out ahead of kick off. There were people outside actually trying to buy tickets in the hope of getting in, but no one was selling their seat for this game.

So, 2 games down and I can have nothing but praise for the organisation that has so far been almost faultless. Teething problems aside with ticketing, rotas and no one knowing what to do with Team 13 before the actual matches started, its been an experience I would heartily recommend everyone should have at some point in their life.

I’m in St. Helens on Saturday for the Australia v Fiji game. I know that a certain pair of journalists are attempting to get to both that days games, the first being England v Ireland in Huddersfield.

I hope they make it, because they are going to be 2 games that you will NOT want to miss.

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