The end of Days…

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It’s been 2 days now since Australia won the 2013 Rugby League world cup and I feel like I’ve lost a limb. After 5 weeks of covering the event as a social media journalist, I really don’t know what to do with myself. OK, there is the 2014 domestic season to look forward to, but that is over 12 weeks away! Between now and then, there is only Football, and the sight of fully grown men rolling about like the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan after someone breathes heavily on them is no replacement for rugby league.

This has been the best attended, most watched and most profitable world cup ever. We know that because Nigel Wood has told us so, and for once, I am inclined to believe the powers that be. No one outside of the most diehard fan (and even then, it was a stretch) predicted that this would be as successful as it has been. A lot of the credit has to be removed from Nigel Wood and be given to the real person responsible for delivering, General Manager Sally Bolton. Her team spread over Media City in Salford and Red Hall in Leeds really have worked miracles at times. The hours they have put in to ensure that everything has gone to plan would give an HR manager apoplexy. I don’t think they even know what the “working time regulation” is. I know for a fact that Emma Neve has been in the office until 3am on some days sorting out emails, answering questions (Sorry Emma!) and confirming last minute details. 48 hours a week was seen as a minimum…They all deserve a real pat on the back and a couple of weeks off, somewhere warm & sunny.

Backing every single one of them up were the members of Team 13, all 702 of us. For me, the chance to actually work as a journalist was too good a chance to miss after writing for Forty-20 and Weloveleague.com and presenting on the radio in both Hull and Leeds over the years. The uniform was a tad bright to say the least, and as we found out at Rochdale when someone forgot 6 of us were waiting outside, the jackets were waterproof. Thanks Martin! Team 13 were drawn from all over the volunteering spectrum. Some were professional volunteers, who had been at the Olympics and post Cup were heading off to Glasgow for the commonwealth games in 2014, whereas most had had little experience and just wanted to be a part of an event for a sport they loved. Meeting these people and working with them has been amazing. Everyone has given their time and although we all had the odd moan about things here and there, to a person, every one of Team 13 would hail the tournament a success. I’ve met people I know I’ll keep in touch with and meet again, just as I hope many others did. Team 13 were the people that made the tournament flow. OK, we didn’t all stand about doing the viral dance as was predicted, but as someone in a senior marketing position for a well known multinational said to me, the thing about viral is it’s a growth idea, It has to be organic and good. You can’t just call it viral & hope everyone will take it up…Social media mangers take note!

The legacy of the cup has to be at international level. In an earlier post, I mentioned that perhaps getting the smaller nations to play in double headers in a mini tournament parallel to the Four Nations might be a good idea. I’d certainly go to see Fiji v Tonga before England v France or Samoa v Italy before Australia v New Zealand. That way, the teams can be alternated and the emerging nations can continue to grow between world cups and we can have even less of the blow outs scores that have thankfully not been seen too often this year.

From game one in Wales to game twenty eight in Manchester, the cup has shown that there is some real talent out there. No one expected Wales to be dumped out at the group stage, just as no one expected the USA to get past it, but that’s what tournaments are all about, minnows overcoming the odds. For me, the team of the tournament were Tonga. The pride and passion that the smaller emerging nations had been exemplified by this island nation and its leader, Charles Tonga. Both on and off the field, they conducted themselves with far more dignity than quite a few other nations did, believe you me. Below Dave Woods lists his team of the tournament, and it’s very hard to disagree with him. My player of the tournament is a close run between Sam Burgess & Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, but I would have to give it to the Kiwi. For me, he was immense in every game I saw New Zealand play in and his loss in the final was not the turning point, but it certainly helped the Kangaroos.

So, we turn in the domestic realm once again to governance. After 6 clubs (Catalan Dragons, Huddersfield, Hull FC, Hull KR, Warrington and champions Wigan) all walked out of a meeting in October, Super League fans were once again left wondering what was going on at the “elite” level of the game. In a statement published on the 23rd October by Super League, Brian Barwick was quoted as saying “It is very disappointing that we were unable to take a vote on such important issues because some clubs chose to leave the room and refuse to participate further. “In many ways this form of action is unprecedented. These proposals would have had a positive impact on the whole sport but they were halted by a minority of clubs. “Clearly some of the clubs have deep-rooted issues and between us we have to find a way of resolving our differences for the benefit of both Super League and the wider game. “It is my view that this was a very unsatisfactory way for the six clubs to demonstrate their frustration.” Brian, the clue is that you (The RFL) don’t want to discuss the actual problems that you have within the game, all the clubs want is an open and frank discourse on the governance and commercial management, or lack thereof before allowing you to push through the reforms. Brian, Nigel and anyone else at Red Hall who really does love this sport and wants to see it grow, please, stop being so insular and listen to the clubs and the fans. We make the sport and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, just because we don’t work for you or don’t wear the right tie. Without clubs in the heart of the community, there is no Super League, no Championship and no NL 1. Grass roots governance will spread upwards and pay benefits for decades to come. Look after the penny, not the pound. That photo shoot of the England lads wearing their feeder club shirts that I’ve placed just below, that’s what inspired each and every one of them to play the game, a club in the heart of their community…

 

England players in the colours of the community clubs that gave them their start in the game.

England players in the colours of the community clubs that gave them their start in the game.

Back row: Lee Mossop (Hensingham ARLFC), Kallum Watkins (Latchford Albion), Chris Hill (New Spring Lions), Thomas Burgess (Dewsbury Moor), Sam Burgess (Dewsbury Moor), George Burgess (Dewsbury Moor), Leroy Cudjoe (Newsome Panthers), Liam Farrell (Wigan St Patricks), Ryan Hall (Oulton Raiders).

Middle row: Tom Briscoe (Featherstone Lions), Zak Hardaker (Featherstone Lions), Brett Ferres (Smawthorne Panthers), James Graham (Blackbrook) , Carl Ablett (Hunslet Parkside), Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan St Patricks), Ben Westwood (Normanton Knights), Michael McIlorum (Queens).

 

Front row: Josh Charnley (Wigan St Patricks), Rangi Chase (Dannevirke Tigers), Rob Burrow (Featherstone Lions), Kevin Sinfield (Waterhead), Sam Tomkins (Wigan St Patricks), Gareth Widdop (King Cross Park), James Roby (Blackbrook).

Below are a couple of links to other writers who have covered the tournament. I particularly like Ian Ramsdales ideas for expansion of the domestic game.

 

http://ianramsdale.tumblr.com/post/68702289407/rugby-league-world-cup-2013-success-one-step-closer-to

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-league/25105316

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/sport/rugbyleague/article3937527.ece (PAYWALL)

 

 

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1/4 final 4 – Samoa v Fiji

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What a weekend of ¼ finals that turned into. From Friday and the Kiwi lads blowing the Bravehearts of Scotland away, England once again stuttering to a win over the French, through to Sunday’s bone crunching encounter between Samoa and Fiji, the 4 games could not have been more diverse.

No one ever expected to see Scotland and USA in this round, but they can hold their heads up high as despite being outclassed score wise, they more than held their own and refused to lie down and roll over for their more illustrious opposition.

I was lucky enough to be at the Samoa v Fiji game and I can attest that even from the press box, there were a few hits that made even hardened journalists wince in sympathy with the players on the pitch. It’s hard to think, but with only 700 miles separating these two nations, they have only played each other once before this RLWC2013 quarter final.

The pre match favourites with the bookies were Samoa, but there were two fully committed sets of players on that Warrington field. Believe it or not, I had worn sun glasses leaving Manchester in the car to take the short hop along the A57 to Warrington, but didn’t need them by the time I arrived! It was a dull grey drizzly afternoon at the Halliwell Jones, but even as I arrived 2 hours ahead of kick off, there were fans beginning to make their way into the ground and getting ready for the afternoons entertainment.

Once I’d grabbed a brew & a quick chat with the rest of the Team 13 media pack, I headed out to the stands to take a look around. After bumping into the Event 360 manager, Pete Nuttall, I noticed that one of the 2 clubs involved in the build-up game were my old friends from Crossfields RLFC, where the annual Tom Sephton memorial trophy takes place. Date for your diary, its back next season on the 28th June when the RLC team will attempt to wrest the trophy from the lads. If you’re in the North West, there is no other place to be on that day, as the ONLY Super League match is London v Widnes so no excuses for helping make the day an even bigger success than it has been in the past.

Crossfields Masters

Crossfields Masters

Anyway, kick off arrived and a crowd of over 12,000 began to roar on the local team of Samoa, turning this small area of Cheshire into the South Pacific for just over 80 minutes. You can hear what Matt Parish had to say about the people of Warrington post match by clicking on the link below.

It was an entertaining match, and to hear a group of proudly Fijian soldiers out chanted by a group of school kids from beginning to end, whilst egging them on to even louder chants just shows how great this game is and its strength in its communities.

Although Fiji looked like easy winners with the score line of 22-4, it was anything but easy. Aaron Groom, who went on to be named man of the match, and Wes Naiqama both scored first-half tries while Vitale Junior Roqica went over later in the game. Naiqama converted all three tries and kicked two penalties for the Fijians. Antonio Winterstein scored the only try for Samoa, who lost Penani Manumalealii to injury in a lack lustre display.

As Petero Civoniceva told the press post match, “its great feeling to know that potentially my last game will be played at (one of) two amazing venues. I feel I’ve been very blessed. I started this rugby league ride in 1998 and to be still here, I feel very proud of that. I’m really looking forward to enjoying the week, taking it all in with my team-mates.”

As for Samoa, they can be rightly proud of their campaign in this World Cup. They have played with grit and determination, winning new fans wherever they have been. The sight of what looked like 100 local kids doing a traditional Samoan dance at half time will make me smile as long as I live.

This could (not) have started any better…

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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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The day after the game before…

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Well, if this final weekend showed fans of International Rugby League anything, it’s that if you’re not at the top of your game, you will get beaten.

After Friday night’s defeat of the French by the USA, on Saturday, England took on Italy.

And lost…

From the moment Italy arrived pitch side, they looked cool (as you’d expect in Salford for autumn) well drilled and ready for a tough game.

Once Anthony Laffranchi scored a soft early try, and the ease with which hooker Dean Parata burrowed his way from dummy half for the visitors’ second must have given Steve McNamara a lot to think about ahead of facing the Australians on the 26th in Cardiff.

Even when the torrential thunder and lightning storm arrived, the Italians looked more at ease on the ball, offloading with ease and seemingly at will they often stretched the England defence and could easily have gone in at the 40 minute mark ahead of the hosts.

As it was, some uncharacteristic missed kicks from captain Sinfield allowed the score to look much better for both sets of players and fans at 14-12.

Once the second ½ was underway and the rain began to ease off, it became clear that despite the passion of the 4300 fans, neither side looked much like troubling the scoreboard until a penalty for the Azzurri in the 69th minute gave them the chance to draw level.

The game went to and fro for the next 9 minutes with knock on being the main call that referee Richard Silverwood had to make, until Josh Charnley gifted the Italians possession with just 90 seconds on the clock and allowed Mantellato a drop goal from 30 metres out which was slotted over to give the Italians a famous victory, one made all the sweeter for coach Carlo Napolitano, who was born & raised in Salford.

Magnanimous in defeat, England coach McNamara said “We’ve certainly not played anywhere near what we are capable of. That’s quite clear to see.”

“I just think our mentality was really wrong for this game. We were probably guilty of looking towards next week and we took our eye off this game. I don’t think we were fully focused. I’m glad it’s happened this week in a way rather than next week. I’m sure we will be a whole lot better for it next week.”

Steve, so do a lot of England fans. I’m certain you want the England job long term, but we need a more organised, gutsier display. OK, it was a warm up game, and you need to make certain that players like Tomkins don’t get injured, but we didn’t ever look like we were going to win.

Congratulations to the Italians. They were organised, disciplined and looked like they really wanted to beat England from minute one.

This next 4 weeks will have one or two upsets in the group stages, which makes for an interesting, if nervous, cup for everyone.