We are just a week away from the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, so we thought we would look back at five memories from the last edition back in 2013.
Held in England, Wales, France and Ireland, this was the most successful tournament in recent memory and resulted in Australia winning their crown back with a comprehensive victory over New Zealand in the final at Old Trafford.
On a personal level, covering this tournament was a highlight of my career – and I was fortunate enough to work 22 of the 28 games across the tournament.
Here are my five top memories:
The anguish of semi-final defeat
England’s painful exit at Wembley, courtesy of a last minute try from New Zealand’s Shaun Johnson, perhaps prompted the most surreal atmosphere in a press box I have ever experienced. Everybody in the press knew just what a significant boost it would have been for rugby league in this country to have England in the final, and they were so close. With a re-structure on the cards, it may have been a great opportunity to build. There was this strange lull in the stadium afterwards and I was one of the few journalists who stayed to watch the Australia-Fiji match – everyone else trudged off to get Steve McNamara’s thoughts.
Sonny Bill’s slip
After an encouraging start to the tournament in Cardiff, we travelled back north for the second day of games, one of which saw New Zealand take on Samoa in Warrington. The game was most remembered for Sonny Bill Williams’ slip over the dead ball line as he delayed touching the ball down for a try. Despite a spirited effort by Samoa, it ultimately had no impact on the end result but the superstar was left with just a little bit of egg on his face.
Crazy Cook Islands
The magic of the World Cup is seeing nations and players who you aren’t familiar with, nonemoreso than when Tonga faced the Cook Islands at Leigh Sports Village on Bonfire night. There were two crazy moments in this game that stuck with me – one was another no-try effort this time by a Cook Islands centre, who slid over the line but kept the ball elevated rather than putting it down, before eventually running out of room. But the most outrageous incident was a Cook Islands players getting up after a tackle and playing the ball facing completely the wrong way, something which he was penalised for. Definitely a “never seen that before” moment.
To Bristol and back
The oddball among the host cities for the World Cup was Bristol, traditionally a rugby union city, though one that had some rugby league connections via the nearby Gloucestershire All Golds and their history. Perhaps my fondest memory of the tournament was leaving the office at 3pm to drive south to the Memorial Stadium for a game between USA and Cook Islands on a freezing Wednesday night. I remember being disappointed at the lack of signage and apparent notice that a World Cup game was taking part here, especially in comparison to Warrington and Rochdale, but then quite encouraged by what was a boisterous and well attended crowd. I was the only northern-based journalist to make the trip, though the god of rugby league media, Steve Mascord, was of course in attendance. Steve’s passion, energy and professionalism is something to behold, and his incredible rapport with people in rugby league circles such as, amongst others, the referee on that night Richard Silverwood, still has me scratching my head to this day.
The fixture scheduling meant there were a few double headers at the same game but also a couple of days where there was a dash between games. One of those days was the second Saturday where the England-Ireland match in Huddersfield was followed by Australia-Fiji at St Helens. Sadly, getting a helicopter from Hull to Ireland on the third Saturday wasn’t feasible. Anyway, after a fairly lacklustre England had managed to ease to a 42-0 win over Ireland, it was the drive over to the right side of the Pennines in what can only be described as relentless rain. I’m fairly sure that match at Langtree Park was the coldest I’ve ever been covering a game in a press box.
After that tournament, I set the target of ensuring I was Down Under for 2017. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to make it, but will of course be following the tournament from these shores.
What are your memories of 2013, and are you going this year? Let us know in the comments below.