1. White wall
England got their three Test series with New Zealand off to a great start with a win in Hull on the weekend. They were asleep in the first 30 minutes, with the Kiwis in control and 10-0 in front, but tied things up just before half-time and then powered home. There was only one team in it in the second 40, and this was a truly impressive defensive performance to keep the Antipodeans out. New Zealand struggled with the one referee and got slugged in the penalty count. But their main concern will be their halves, as expected, with their kicking game not up to scratch and some of their last tackle options poor. If I was Stephen Kearney I would be taking a punt on young Brisbane Broncos livewire Kodi Nikorima in Test two.
England can take a lot of out of their display at the KC Stadium, but will need to start the second Test a lot better. Picking a forward in the centres in John Bateman remains a concern, but the biggest plus was the power of the English bench in the second half. James Roby, Tom Burgess, two-try hero Brett Ferres and Mike Cooper were all excellent. England now have a huge opportunity to seal the series at the Olympic Stadium. A series victory is exactly what they need over a weakened New Zealand, anything but that should not be tolerated.
2. Four Nations
A crowd of around 40,000 is being tipped for this weekend’s Test and that would be a great advertisement for the code, especially with rugby union’s World Cup just ginishing. This would help build towards next year’s Four Nations series, which should be a cracker. Now is the time to get on the front foot and promote that competition. The Kiwis will be back, with current World Cup holders Australia as well, to meet England and last year’s European champions Scotland. It would be nice to know when and where these games will be on. Here’s hoping the RFL and RLIF think big for the Four Nations, not small and provincial, to take the Four Nations to the biggest audience available. It would be great to see matches in Newcastle and either Glasgow or Edinburgh, for when Scotland play.
Wembley would be a great venue for the Four Nations final and maybe Etihad or Anfield, for something different, for some of the other games. Lets spread the competition around the country, as was down in the southern hemisphere last year, and give people across the UK a chance to get involved. Villa Park in Birmingham was a great host for the 15-man code recently, perhaps it should be a venue also under consideration.
3. Sam signing
Burgessmania is back to peak form, probably at its highest since the 2014 NRL grand final when South Sydney finally broke their duck. It appears ‘Slammin’ Sam’ is heading home, back to the code that made him and fully appreciates him, rugby league. Some of the coverage in his time in union has been hysterical, as he has become one of the scapegoats for England’s failure. That wouldn’t happen in our game, one where the special talent of the lad from Dewsbury is understood and acknowledged. Whether it is back to Souths, or to Leeds instead – and I think it will be Redfern – it will be fantastic to have the fearsome forward back. He is a great ambassador for the greatest game of all and will be a welcome addition back to the NRL and to the England international fold. Sonny Bill Williams and Israel Folau back next please.
4. RIP Chris
Tragic news on Monday with referee Chris Leatherbarrow passing away at the age of just 26. It was shocking to hear of his death and truly well before his time. Leatherbarrow leaves behind a young daughter and a stunned rugby league community. The sport has had its fair share of tragedy this year, with the untimely passing of Danny Jones as well, and this was another kick in the guts. The 2013 Championship referee of the year, Leatherbarrow was from St Helens and a popular figure amongst players and other officials. Condolences go to his friends and family at this terrible time, rest in peace Chris.
5. Tickle assaulted
The bad news has kept on coming these past few days. It appears that Widnes Viking Danny Tickle was assaulted outside a nightclub in Ashton-in-Makerfield, and is now in hospital recovering. Tickle, who has played for Hull FC, Wigan and Halifax in his career, along with representing England is believed to have suffered a bleed on the brain. The Vikings have made a statement that Tickle will make a complete recovery and we all hope that is the case. Get well soon Danny.