Five things we learned this weekend: World Cup kick-off!

Neil Barraclough

One – International rugby league is the only way to grow

Forget needless and misdirected fiddling around with league structures – can anyone seriously now doubt that international rugby league is the only genuine way to grow the sport?

Saturday’s World Cup opener at the Millennium Stadium was a glimpse of what rugby league could be. A taste of the kind of occasion the sport could consistently produce if only it directed its efforts and energies into seeing the bigger picture rather than constantly worrying about what the club five miles down the road is doing.

Big stadium, national interest, pre-match stuff that was mainstream cool rather than cheap and naff. Oh, and two cracking games as well.

Hats off to Sally Bolton and the rest of her RLWC team for putting on such a brilliant show. The World Cup is up and running – the next five weeks should be fantastic.


Two – Centres of goodness

On to the actual match, and worries over England’s centres were dispelled by a solid 80 minutes from Leroy Cudjoe and Kallum Watkins.

Against the most dangerous opposition they’re likely to face, Cudjoe missed just two tackles and Watkins none.

Only Tom Burgess and Lee Mossop had a higher average of metres per carry than Watkins, while Cudjoe was alert enough to finish from Kevin Sinfield’s bouncing kick midway through the first half.

But perhaps the biggest measure of their success comes with the realisation that other than out-jumping Sam Tomkins to collect Cooper Cronk’s kick, Greg Inglis was kept relatively quiet.

If Cudjoe can learn not to concede the needless penalties, although he was far from the only culprit of that crime, then England really could be on to something.


Three – Give up the Chase

Is it time for Steve McNamara to finally admit that Gareth Widdop might just be a better option than Rangi Chase?

There’s no doubt Chase is a startling individual talent, but those moments of brilliance have yet to transfer onto the international stage.

And Widdop’s 23 minutes at the end of Saturday’s match was arguably his finest moment in an England shirt. He controlled play well, directing team-mates with off-the-ball instructions as well as spraying passes to his left and right.

It would still be a surprise if McNamara gave Widdop a starting spot against Ireland, but the common view seems to be that he certainly deserves a chance.


Four – Hull heartbreak

The World Cup’s first gut-wrenching moment came on Sunday night.

David Mead had a 25-metre penalty bang in front of the posts to win it for PNG against France.

But his hooked effort sailed wide and France clung on for a 9-8 win in the wind and rain at Craven Park.

His effort curled away after being struck by the inside of the boot. Wonder what toe-poke king and PNG director of football Mal Meninga made of it all?


Five – Haka wars: first blood to Samoa

Never mind the rugby. In the RLWC Haka League Table, Samoa edged their first clash against New Zealand.

The Kiwis were committed as ever, but the Samoans’ ad-hoc screeching secured a narrow victory.

Next up: Fiji. Best of luck, gents.


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Follow Neil Barraclough on Twitter @neilbarraclough