Five things we learned this weekend: Un disastro!

Neil Barraclough

One – Un disastro!

Pick the bones out of that.

Six days until England face the Kangaroos, and a run that was meant to give Steve McNamara the answers to a few remaining conundrums has opened up a whole new raft of problems.

Never mind finalising centres, half-backs, second rowers and a starting hooker: what about cohesion, quality and just the hint of attacking menace?

From an English point of view, it’s hard to remember a bigger cock-up. Burleigh Bears, New Zealand Maori… at least they didn’t actually win – unlike the Italians.

McNamara must now try to engineer an enormous turnaround. Swinging from defeat against Italy to victory over Australia in just one week appears a ridiculous task.

The stunned looks on the faces of three very senior RFL figures at full time said everything.


Two – Half-baked? Maybe not even that…

The uncomfortable truth is that England were matched – and at times outwitted – by a half-back pairing plucked out of the Queensland Cup.

Stand-off Ryan Ghietti (Northern Pride) and scrum half Tim Maccan (Tweed Head Seagulls) offered just as much as any permutation of Kevin Sinfield, Rangi Chase, Gareth Widdop and Rob Burrow during the course of those 80 rain-soaked minutes.

McNamara’s loyalty and pride mean it will still be a huge surprise if anyone other than Sinfield and Chase occupy the starting berths against the Aussies.

But there was nothing to strike fear into Tim Sheens, watching from the back of the stand and no doubt seeing much to exploit in Cardiff.


Three – The long road back starts here

Credit to Sinfield, Burrow and Sam Tomkins, who were among some of the England players to front up afterwards.

All three appeared shell-shocked. Sinfield said: “We didn’t turn up, we didn’t play like we can and we’ve got the biggest week of our lives in front of us. We’re going to be tested now and we’ve got to bounce back.”

Burrow added: “It’s a stumble, but it’s not a crisis. It’s just something we didn’t think would happen.”

And Tomkins’ verdict on the Kangaroos? “They’ll think they’ll have an easy week, won’t they? If that’s how they’re thinking, that’s fine.”

Steve McNamara came in looking like he couldn’t believe what he’d seen. “It tests our resolve,” he said. “It’s for real now, and we have to respond.”


Four – At least the groups should be wide open

If Italy and USA are judged to be the two weakest teams taking part, given it’s the first time either have competed in the World Cup, then there’s plenty of reason to cheer.

America’s win in Toulouse on Friday night and Italy’s triumph at Salford should bring a smile to anyone who cares about international rugby league.

Groups C and D look wide open, and you’d be brave to call the two other teams that will qualify alongside New Zealand from Group B.

We’ll resist the temptation to suggest the same thing about Australia and the rest of Group A…


Five – Haka wars

As if this week’s video of Doncaster children trading hakas with World Cup holders New Zealand wasn’t enough, two more belters emerged at the Keepmoat on Sunday.

The Cook Islands put down an early claim for Longest Haka Ever, with the crowd bursting into applause on two separate occasions before finally guessing the ending right with their third cheer.

Then the Kiwis gave a first glimpse of the brand new haka they’ve brought over especially for the World Cup.

As usual, tongue waving Isaac Luke leads from the front. Can anyone else see the likeness with Albert Einstein?


Thoughts on the weekend’s action? Leave your comments below.

Follow Neil Barraclough on Twitter @neilbarraclough