I felt far away and detached in 2008, but by the time it got round to 2013, I was far busier.
For those that don’t know I also volunteer on Radio General, Warrington Hospital Radio.
As it was the station’s 60th anniversary of rugby commentaries we decided that Adrian Jackson and I would apply for accreditation to cover the competition.
We were both granted access and between us covered the first seven games of the tournament. We both went to the games between Ireland and Fiji at Rochdale and Tonga and Cook Islands at Leigh. Adrian went to Cardiff and Huddersfield to report on England’s performances against Australia and Ireland respectively and I watched the mighty Australians take on Fiji at St Helens.
I found this ground-hopping particularly exhillarating and we were both in and around the press pack for the first week and a half of the tournament before work commitments caught up with us. I remember Adrian covering a Quarter Final at Wigan, I watched a couple of cracking games at the Halliwell Jones Stadium and attended the double header semi-finals at Wembley.
Once more organisers opted to tinker with the format, but I feel that they got it right.
The fourteen teems were split into four pools. Pool A and Pool B contained four teams each with the other two containing three teams.
Three teams qualified for the quarter finals out of Pool A and three made the cut from Pool B. The other quarter finalists were the top teams out of Pools C and D.
What struck me was how busy the grounds were. For me it felt like 1995 all over again. Competitively priced tickets saw some great attendances. and the average for the tournament was over 16,000. Memorable nights were created with over 10,000 at Leigh and almost 9,000 at Rochdale – each providing atmosphere’s that I hadn’t experienced in either stadium before.
The Ireland game at Rochdale was the first opportunity I had to see the likes of Akuila Uate and Marika Koroibete live and they didn’t disappoint. Uate claimed two tries as Fiji went on to win 32-14. Fullback Kevin Naiqama walked off with the man of the match award and I was in awe at the legendary Petero Civoniceva, even getting the chance to ask him a couple of questions in the press conference afterwards.
I also remember Mark Aston and Liam Finn conducting post match matters for Ireland and it was as if I was holding court, guiding their discussion about the game. I felt comfortable on this stage, especially as both guys were well known to me from the Championship.
Here is some video footage from that game:
Australia’s game against Fiji was also memorable as it was played in non stop rain for eighty minutes and it was a chilling night, I was frozen at the end of it and it took twenty minutes for me to thaw out. Goodness knows what all those antipodean players thought. Fiji led 2-0 early on before the Australians took control and eventually eased to a 34-2 win.
Perhaps my favourite game of the tournament, like in 1995, came at Warrington when Samoa battled but were ultimately beaten 42-24.
Again, here’s a video from the game.
The semi-finals at Wembley were interesting. England put in a much better showing but lost in dramatic fashion late on. It was very late on in fact as Shaun Johnson slipped through the defence.
As many of the crowd left after that game, it felt quite surreal watching Australia run rings around Fiji in a stadium that by this time probably had less than 15,000 in it.
It got even better for the Kangaroos and I was an interested spectator at Old Trafford for the World Cup Final. The Kiwis seemed to freeze on the big stage and Australia built a 16-2 lead at the break. In the second half, they moved further clear, eventually easing to a comfortable 34-2 win.
Once more the Kangaroos reigned supreme and my thoughts ahead of the start of the 2017 competition is will anyone be able to stop the dominant force?
Let’s find out.
Again I’d love to hear about your experiences from the 2013 competition.